HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A confrontation between a group opposed to genetically engineered foods and the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation was caught on video, with both sides accusing the other of starting the scuffle.
The confrontation happened Thursday at an Ag Day event on the fourth floor of the State Capitol.
The video begins with anti-GMO protesters confronting farmer Shin Ho of Ho Farms, accusing her of grabbing one of them. Ho denies touching them, and then federation president Dean Okimoto approaches the camera and appears to push it away with his hand.
"So they're filming this, so I walk up and I go 'you know what, you don't need to film this,'" said Okimoto. "I put my hand up to the camera, as you see in the video. And I said, 'Eh, you know what, 'nuff already, just stop.'"
The camera is jostled for a moment while the protesters can be heard yelling, "Don't touch us! Don't touch us!" Eventually, a woman pulls Okimoto away and leads him off.
Okimoto said the confrontation actually began about ten minutes earlier, when Ho was discussing GMO's with protester Jess Mitchell.
"I just heard her (Mitchell) scream, 'Don't touch me!'," said Okimoto. "But people over there said Shin didn't even touch her. She just raised her hand to sort of calm her down, and that was it."
In the video, Nomi Carmona and Mitchell angrily dispute that.
"You grabbed Jess! You're on camera grabbing Jess!" says Carmona.
"I can see that I'm on camera. I didn't grab anybody," Ho replies.
"You did touch me," says Mitchell.
"Not right now! Earlier! Please, just please leave us alone," says Carmona.
Ho declined an on-camera interview with Hawaii News Now, but said she only held up her hands to Mitchell to calm her down.
Okimoto also said he didn't push the woman who was holding the camera that recorded the video. He contends it was a man who got between him and the camera.
"The guy that's standing there, young Hawaiian kid, bumps me," said Okimoto. "I mean, not really trying to knock me down, he hits me. So I kinda pushed him back."
Carmona identified the man as Bruce, a friend of Vivian Wong, who recorded the video. "He's just trying to shield and protect Vivian with the camera so she can keep filming," she said. "So he's not really confronting, he's just trying to get in between."
Carmona is also concerned that the confrontation happened in front of children.
The scuffle underscored the increasing passion in the debate over genetically modified food and whether or not they are safe. Okimoto contends that GMO's have helped farmers remain viable. "I just think its selfish for people to think that everybody can eat organic and afford it. And it's just not reasonable," he said.
Carmona denied claims that labeling genetically modified foods would mean much higher costs. "Of places that have actually labeled GMOs, that have gone from non GMO labeling to GMO labeling, the average cost is less than five dollars per person per year," she said.
Carmona added that she's trying to stick to the scientific studies that she says show that GMO's are unsafe, but remains passionate about it. "I think that sometimes that passion gives them a little bit of an opening to try to say, ah, they're just emotional," she said. "What's emotional about me wanting to know the content of my food?"
Okimoto said he initially declined to file charges against the protesters, but has changed his mind. "There were a lot of witnesses there that saw the confrontation and we didn't start it. We weren't the aggressors, one. Two, he struck me first. And I don't even consider that a strike," he said.
Carmona said it was difficult to file charges against Okimoto, but plan to take action and perhaps seek a restraining order against Okimoto.
The video can be seen by clicking here.