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Pro- and anti-GMO activists squabble at Maui Fair

WAILUKU >> Activists on both sides of the genetically modified foods debate squabbled and taunted one another during last weekend’s Maui Fair, organizers said.

Fair banners and signs were tagged with bumper stickers, Maui Fair Alliance President Avery Chumbley told The Maui News. (http://bit.ly/1vhgOE4) Some of the behavior prompted calls to police, he said.

Chumbley said he spent most of his time dealing with both groups, which took him away from his responsibilities running the fair.

The Maui Fair, a tradition dating to 1916, features livestock, farming and bonsai exhibits as well as carnival rides. This year’s fair also hosted a robotics competition.

Parade entrants and exhibitors complete an application form acknowledging that they will be nonpolitical, Chumbley said. He said he made a mistake by not closely policing parade participants and those who applied and received booths.

“I wish to apologize to those who attended the Maui Fair for being subjected to political messages. I will take the necessary steps to prevent a repeat of the mistakes in future fairs,” Chumbley said.

The issue of genetically modified organisms has been heating up before next month’s election. Maui County voters are being asked whether to approve a measure that would temporarily ban the cultivation of genetically engineered crops until the practice is proven safe.

Organizations representing both sides of the GMO issue said that they followed the fair rules and were grateful for the work of fair officials.

“We appreciated the opportunity to meet with thousands of fair attendees and discuss the initiative,” said Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, spokesman for Citizens Against the Maui County Initiative.

HIs group’s members stayed in their booth and didn’t distribute any fliers at the fair gates or in the parade, he said.

The SHAKA Movement, which led the effort to put the measure on the ballot, said in a statement that it set up “a nonpolitical purely educational booth in accordance to fair rules.”

“SHAKA salutes the fair management for its decision to allow this important GMO subject to have a public forum at the fair,” the group said.

SHAKA said both the “yes” and “no” booths were peaceful, respectful and law-abiding.

“Any ‘squabbles’ were minor compared to the passions of people’s convictions on the GMO subject. We were overwhelmingly accepted and supported at the fair and could not be happier with how everything worked out,” the group said.

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