Monday, July 6, 2015

Musings: Conversation With a GMO Researcher

Though people in the West typically equate “GMOs” with international chemical companies and Roundup-resistant crops fed largely to livestock, it's a very different scene in the public sector of developing nations.

Researchers in that corner of the biotech universe are focusing on indigenous staple crops, finding ways to improve nutrition, boost yield, minimize pesticide use, increase drought tolerance and reduce natural toxins in certain foods, such as peanuts.

On my trip to India, I had the opportunity to interview that nation's leading plant scientists and learn about their research in agricultural biotechnology. Not one of them came across as a mad scientist, a monster out to poison humanity, a tyrant desiring to control the world's seeds and genetic diversity.

No, they were just earnest, committed, hardworking academics, sincere in their desire to feed their countrymen, address problems facing farmers in their very own villages. 

One of them was Dr. Sampa Das, whose team at the Bose Institute has isolated mannose-binding lectin proteins in onion and garlic. Though these lectins are basically storage proteins, they can also serve as defense proteins when attacked by certain enemies.

Plants genetically engineered to express that lectin could better repel sap-sucking insects and the viruses they carry, which could have the happy result of boosting yield and reducing pesticide use. 

And isn't that a good thing? Especially since it essentially mimics a process in nature.

You can read my profile of Dr. Sampa Das here. It offers some perspective on what motivates these scientists, the research process and the lengthy ordeal of getting a genetically engineered plant to market. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Musings: People Problem

The Kauai County Council is again engaged in time-wasting— namely, its plan to vet the idea of a county manager position.

Long the cherished dream of Ken Taylor, Glenn Mickens and Walter Lewis, the manager concept gained traction when they approached Councilman Mason Chock, who just can't say no. So now an idea previously considered and rejected by the charter commission after it conducted road shows to gauge public interest — there was none — is the focus of a fullblown Council subcommittee.

To its advocates, the manager position is code for this belief: The county needs a white guy from the mainland to sort things out.

And of course the Council likes the idea, because they'd get to hire the manager, giving them power the mayor now holds.

For those who think it's a good idea to let the Council choose someone to run the county, consider this: The Council hired Auditor Ernie Pasion, who for years produced nothing of value on a $114,848 annual salary, allowed himself to be used for political retaliation and then sued the county — collecting $300,000 — when they tried to discipline and then fire him.

I've done political reporting in cities with the manager system, and found they were just as corrupt and dysfunctional as the one on Kauai. Only today I noticed an example of how such a system can fail, in an article about a rookie cop who reported two Oklahoma police officers were beating and shooting stray dogs:

The chief has said that when the allegations were made, both officers were immediately pulled from duty and put on administrative leave. However, Konawa City Manager Tony Lowery has decided to allow them to work while they are being investigated by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Folks need to face the facts: The problem isn't the system, but the people in it. And that includes misinformed, woefully ignorant voters.

Like the people who are crying and screaming and wailing because the court struck down Maui's  illegal GMO moratorium. Lacking an education in basic civics, and its three branches of government, they see the ruling as somehow depriving them of their vote and constitutional rights.

So what do they do? They stand out in front of the place they claim is delivering daily doses of toxins, wearing silly masks that would do nothing to hinder the poisons they fear. Because, of course, it's all for show.
Maui Councilwoman Elle Cochran
After reading comments left on Facebook and Civil Beat, it seems none of the moratorium supporters have actually read Judge Susan Oki Mollway's order, which carefully lays out the legal rationale for her decision. Instead, they claim she doesn't know the law, or must be corrupt, in the pay of the chem companies.
Meanwhile, they happily swallow the dogma peddled by paid anti-GMO lobbyists like Babes Against Biotech, which immediately posted an insulting meme of the judge sitting on a papaya and this claptrap:

Judge Susan Oki Mollway suspends democratic initative [sic] voting rights, rules in favor of #‎Monsanto & #‎Dow! Refuses to enforce citizen GMO moratorium vote and compel safety testing!

The Babes and their sheep just can't, or won't, face reality: The language of their law was fatally flawed in numerous areas, and they had a crappy lawyer who didn't actually provide any facts to refute claims made by the opposing parties. Which is why, in toddler temper tantrum fashion, they resort to inane claims like this:

Just because they didn't say we won doesn't mean we haven't.

Uh, OK.....

Sadly, people who should know better, like Maui Councilwoman Elle Cochran and Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser and his son, Dylan, who ran a failed campaign for a state House seat, perpetuate this ignorance of civics. Gary repeatedly bashes seed companies that “refuse to follow our democratically passed laws” — all of which have been overturned by the courts, and thus are no longer actual laws that need to be obeyed.

And Dylan parrots Papa:

Wow. The people on Maui voted to pass their moratorium and a judge overturned it. Pretty lame when the democratic process doesn't mean shit anymore. Many people worked countless hours to get their voices heard amongst the millions of dollars the chemical companies spent just to have it disregarded.

So tell us, Dylan, if a majority of voters on Kauai passed a law banning sunrise shell collectors and wearers of tacky aloha shirts from the island, should it stand, as the will of the people? Or should you and Daddy be allowed to challenge its legality in court?

The BAB-sponsored Mollway bash-fest elicited a feeding frenzy of stupidity and ugliness, as befits the group:

Zach Price – There's a word for women like her

Babes Against Biotech – "Judge?" Hahha. "GMO Lover?" Just kidding don't answer that.

Dallin Freestone – Traitorous b#%^# is a fitting title.

Michelle Schumacher -- I hope she gets the first of what ills are coming

Brenton Shaffer – Is "Hell-bound" too harsh?

Scott Baykok Reinke – Remove her from her post....arrest her for reckless endangerment and exile her from the islands

Sharon Lampley – Crimes against humanity. Class Action Law Suite to have her put in prison - Judge Susan Oki Mollway

Michelle Schumacher – Corporate tool.

Norman Bourque – Appeal her ruling....she should be disbarred...huge conflict of interest.

Sheila Storms – The meek shall inherit the Earth. Karma is coming for you Lady.

Jenny McGrath – Stupid. Cow.

So if you rile up people who don't understand, accept or believe in the rule of law, what's next? Mob action? Violence? Not surprisingly, other posts received comments like these:

Peter King – Is Now when the People take the law in their own hands and shut down Monsanto?!?!?!

Kawika Cockett – Burn the fields

Jenna Rosberg – I say we burn all their testing crops hehehe

This is the Hooser-Margaret Wille-Elle Cochran-Russell Ruderman-Josh Green-Center for Food Safety-Earthjustice constituency, folks. 

This is the Hawaii anti-GMO movement, unmasked.

Take a good long look at the true toxins in the Islands. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hawaii's Last Anti-GMO Law Overturned

A federal judge has overturned the last anti-GMO law in Hawaii, firmly establishing state and federal preemption rights throughout the Islands.

In striking down a voter-approved moratorium on growing GM crops yesterday, Federal Judge Susan Oki Mollway determined the Maui ban “is expressly preempted by federal law.” Her ruling goes further than two court decisions that last year invalidated the Kauai and Big Island anti-GMO laws.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren did not address the federal preemption question last August when he overturned Kauai Ordinance 960, which attempted to regulate pesticides and GM crops. Kurren later rejected Hawaii County Ordinance 13-121, which banned all but existing GMO crops, ruling it was partially pre-empted by federal law.

In both cases, Kurren found the Hawaii Legislature clearly intended for state agencies, such as the Departments of Health and Agriculture, to oversee such matters. Mollway agreed, finding that state “statutes and regulations create a comprehensive scheme addressing the same subject matter as the Maui Ordinance.... and state law does not speak to county involvement in rulemaking, oversight, or enforcement relating to that scheme.'”

Mollway also smacked down those who were trying to use the county ordinance process to address health and environmental issues associated with GM crop cultivation:

Notwithstanding the concern that many people have expressed on both sides of these issues, and the visible (and sometimes audible) passion of members of the substantial audiences that have attended hearings in this case, those issues are not before this court on the present motions, and those who want those issues addressed must seek means other than the present order to accomplish that.

In addressing the question of federal preemption, Mollway specifically found that “Maui’s ban of GE organisms funs afoul of the [federal] Plant Protection Act and its regulations.” She wrote:

The statute prohibits the County from regulating the movement (including the release into the environment) of GE organisms in interstate commerce, if they are plant pests or noxious weeds. The Plant Protection Act includes the express statement that “all plant pests, noxious weeds, plants, plant products, articles capable of harboring plant pests or noxious weeds regulated under [the Plant Protection Act] are in or affect interstate commerce or foreign commerce.”

To determine whether preemption applies, this court must examine whether GE organisms can be considered either plant pests or noxious weeds. This court need not look beyond the language in the Ordinance itself in this regard. [T]he Ordinance inherently considers GE organisms to be “noxious weeds” and/or “plant pests.”

Mollway cited Kurren's ruling on the Hawaii County ordinance, which found that “imposing restrictions on open air cultivation, propagation, development, and testing of GE crops and plants was preempted” by the same statute she referenced in striking down the Maui County moratorium.

Mollway's order points to possible trouble ahead for supporters of the Hawaii and Kauai county laws, who are appealing Kurren's rulings to the Ninth Circuit Court. Mollway wrote:

With respect to implied conflict preemption, the Ninth Circuit has clarified that state legislation is preempted when it is impossible to comply with both state and federal requirements, or when state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purpose and objectives of Congress. Even if preemption were not express, the Ordinance would still be preempted because it frustrates the purpose of the Plant Protection Act.

Mollway also found that the Maui moratorium exceeds authority delegated to the county by its Charter. While the moratorium imposed fines of $10,000 for a first violation, $25,000 for a second violation, and $50,000 for any subsequent violation, the Charter does not allow civil penalties to “exceed the amount of $1,000 or one (1) year’s imprisonment, or both.” The penalty provisions in the Ordinance clearly exceed the authorized amount, and have not been authorized by the Maui County Council as stated in the Maui County Charter.

Despite the moratorium's severability clause, Mollway found “this court cannot simply sever the civil fine provisions without engaging in a legislative function... and instead determines that the civil fine provisions are unenforceable.”

And since the court found the ordinance is unenforceable, it denied SHAKA's motion seeking a cross-claim against Maui County forcing it to certify the election results and implement the ordinance.

The order did not address whether the ordinance violated the commerce clause. The parties that challenged the moratorium — Robert Ito Farm, Inc., Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, Maui County, Molokai Chamber of Commerce, Monsanto Company, Agrigenetics Inc., Concerned Citizens of Molokai and Maui, Friendly Isle Auto Parts & Supplies, Inc., New Horizon Enterprises, Inc. and Hikiola Cooperative — have until July 10 to decide how to proceed on that claim.

SHAKA, the Maui group that got the moratorium on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot, has vowed to appeal and is asking the seed companies to follow the law, even though it was invalidated by the court.

In the final paragraph of her order, Mollway again acknowledged the public controversy surrounding the GM crop debate:

The court stresses again, so that no lay party has any misapprehension on this point, that it is ruling purely on legal grounds. No portion of this ruling says anything about whether GE organisms are good or bad or about whether the court thinks the substance of the Ordinance would be beneficial to the County.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Musings: Trailer Trash

Watching the evening sky, I see Jupiter is moving ever closer toward Venus.

And watching the latest piece of anti-GMO propaganda, I see that Kauai is moving ever closer toward apocalypse — unless we let folks like Don Heacock save us.

I'm talking about the trailer for “Aina,” described by one promoter "as an "amazing fact-based film." It will hold its July 26 premiere on Kauai, which an unidentified man on camera unequivocally proclaims as "the hot spot on the planet for pesticide exposures."
Really? Hotter than Indian farmers applying paraquat with backpack sprayers and no protective gear? Hotter than the migrant camps of California's Central Valley? Hotter than the South American farms where folks use empty pesticide containers to carry water?

So much for those “amazing” facts.

The film was brought to my attention first by Anonymous, and then by Jason Donovan, posting under the misnomer "just the facts." Jason followed up with a repeat of his first comment, and then a third comment, inquiring, "are you going to post my comments?” 'cause I guess I hadn't been snappy enough in letting him use my blog to promote the movie.

Who is Jason Donovan? I wondered, as my fingers typed his name into Google. Oh, Lordy, what a surprise. He's a Realtor with Kauai Tropical Properties, "an eco-brokerage" in Hanalei. And not just any Realtor, mind you, but one who has "closed on more than $40 Million worth of Kauai real estate transactions" and is also "responsible for creation of Sustain Kauai brand of eco-friendly real estate.”

Eco-friendly real estate? WTF is that? Though I get how real estate sales sustain Jason — and the anti-GMO movement — I can't quite see how they sustain Kauai. And how, exactly, can the Tropical Paradise website claim "the environment on Kauai is pristine" if it's also the world hot spot for pesticide exposures? 

I think we need some of those "amazing" facts to reconcile that one.

With an ominous score, sweeping visuals and artsy close-ups, the “Aina” trailer includes the title card, “one small island in the Pacific is at the mercy of the world's largest chemical companies.” Victimhood, sadly, still sells.

Previously published pap — “Students evacuated from Waimea school and about 60 were hospitalized,” though the incident had no link to pesticides, and the speculation that “this could be one of the most toxic chemical environments in all of U.S. ag” or, it could not — is presented as fact in other title cards.

Btw, this is how that works, folks. The anti-GMO movement, via the Media Consortium, paid “reporters” like Paul Koberstein to write one-sided, inaccurate articles for sympathetic publications like Earth Island Journal and The Cascadian Times. Then those articles grew legs and became gospel, reprinted and repeated without question elsewhere, even as their contents were disproved by real facts.

Clever how propagandists build the foundation for more propaganda. And you thought this wasn't a well-funded, well-orchestrated campaign!

One of my favorite bits was Heacock's quote, delivered in a scathing tone: “They're not farming. They're doing research.”

Gee, I thought Heacock used to be a scientist. Since when is research a dirty word? And why are research and farming mutually incompatible, or somehow scary when paired?

Still, I don't disagree with every point made in the trailer. David Sproat is right when he says land is a resource, not a commodity, though that won't earn many commissions for Jason and his pals. And who can argue with Sabra Kauka that “many of us feel the need to do our share to malama” Kauai — including seed company workers?

Sadly, the teachings of these wise kupuna lose value when conveyed in the context of a film that is pure political propaganda. And they lose credibility when used out of context to promote the film through sensationalism.

The capper was Heacock saying,” We need to teach a whole new generation about holistic thinking, critical thinking, the truth. The truth will prevail.”

One can only hope. But neither critical thinking nor the truth will be found in either the anti-GMO movement or this film, if the trailer is any indication.

Or as Sabra intoned: “It's very important that we know and be aware of all that is going on around us.”

Yes, and that includes the promotion of propaganda and efforts to demonize the very real people — many of them kanaka or lifelong residents — who work for the seed companies. Because though they're owned by multinational corporations, they're staffed by local people who also love and cherish Kauai, and are very much concerned about stewardship and sustainability.

They are not “the other,” and they do not deserve to be characterized or treated as such by people who hold no claim to moral superiority much less "the truth."

Meanwhile, Gary Hooser is moving ever closer toward desperation. Hawaii interest has been so lackluster that he's now recruiting for HAPA among “Deadheads” — the cult-like followers of The Grateful Dead. Which actually makes them ideal candidates for the lockstep anti-GMO movement.

Gary and his wife spent the weekend manning the HAPA table at two of the Dead's “final” shows in California, offering Deadheads “limited edition postcards,” in exchange for vowing allegiance to a single action: “Protest the impact of pesticide & GMO research with social media.”
Because it's all about numbers, the perception of support, even if those protesting don't know WTF they're talking about and have been fed a bunch of baloney.

Gosh, if only Gary would put half that energy into working for Kauai, and the taxpayers who pay his benefits and salary....

Friday, June 26, 2015

Musings: Disconnect

Has anyone else noticed the schizophrenia of Hawaii's agri/enviro activism?

On the one hand, we have the Sierra Club suing to prevent the reclassification of 1,500 acres of ag land on Oahu for the 11,750-unit Hoopili housing project. It is arguing, in part, that the state isn't doing enough to designate Important Ag Lands, and this land meets all the criteria.

On the other, we have the Sierra Club and its attorney, EarthJustice, actively working with self-proclaimed “green” groups and “aloha aina warriors” to destroy agriculture on acreage already classified as Important Ag Land.

Through lawsuits and direct action, they are aggressively targeting seed operations on all islands, a proposed Kauai dairy and Maui's HC&S — the largest farm in the state.

So what, exactly, do they want? I mean, other than agriculture that yields sufficient food to end Hawaii's import-dependency without using any pesticides, chemical fertilizer or water, producing any dust or smoke or generating any waste.

Here's an example of how they want to reshape ag to fit their bucolic fantasies: “completely organic and self-sustainable...what do you think that would do to the tourist industry? You'd never be able to get a hotel here. Everyone would want to come.”

Is it any surprise these “green” movements have succeeded primarily in attracting greenbacks from high-end Realtors?

Welcome to the black-and-white, simple-minded, short-sighted delusional world of the “new locals” — folks who have all the answers, all the facts, and don't want any conflicting opinions to shake their fast-held views.

A case in point: last night's “sugarcane burn moratorium” meeting on Maui. Here's a shot of the “locals for local change” crowd. 
Looks an awful lot like mainlanders who chose to buy homes in Kihei knowing HC&S was burning cane, but now they want it stopped.

The meeting was hosted by “community leaders and field experts,” but they failed to invite anyone from HC&S who might actually have first-hand knowledge about cane burning operations, alternatives the company has pursued or the fields green-harvested at great expense to minimize impacts on neighborhoods.

Similarly, though folks from the Department of Health's clean air branch traveled from Honolulu to attend, at the group's behest, they were not allowed to share their mana'o, only listen.

But Sen. Josh Green, a Big Island emergency room physician and political foe of Maui Sen. Roz Baker, was invited to speak, as was Maui Community College physics teacher Joe Ritter, who just so happens to be the boyfriend of Terez Amato, who is challenging Baker for her Senate seat.

Yes, Maui has its political demagogues, too — folks who cravenly try, like Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser, to build a voter base among the newcomer-mom-greenie crowd by deliberately distorting facts to create an agricultural demon and fan the flames of fear. For the keiki, of course.

Speaking of Gary, his pal Lance Collins has been hired to sue HC&S, with his fee to be paid through a crowd-funding campaign. Lance, you may recall, came to Kauai to make humbug over the use of pro bono lawyers to defend the pesticide/GMO Bill 2491. He dropped his complaint at the last minute, after wasting county money and time.

Though they protest against cane smoke, their tactics are smoke-and-mirrors. And as they rally against perceived poisons, they spread the poisons of propaganda and community divisiveness.

Yet all the while they remain oblivious to the contradictions in their words and deeds.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Musings: Sandbagged

Back in December 1996, a very high surf event caused extensive erosion along a stretch of shoreline in Haena, threatening three houses.

Kauai County and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources allowed the  landowners to install a sandbag revetment in front of five contiguous oceanfront lots. The county issued a Special Management Area emergency permit for what was supposed to be a temporary fix. 

Condition #5 of the permit clearly states that “[t]he emergency shoreline protection measures shall be temporary [emphasis added] until acceptable permanent measures, which may include relocation of the structures, are approved through normal permitting procedures

The state also issued an emergency permit, with conditions that specify (emphasis added):

[t]he expiration date shall be December 12, 1997; and the permittee during the one year timeframe for this authorization shall prepare a shoreline survey and work to resolve the shoreline emergency through the appropriate permitting process:”

“The emergency shoreline protection measures shall be temporary until acceptable permanent measures, which may include relocation of structures, are approved through normal permitting procedures by the planning commission/department and other appropriate agencies.”

“Within one year of the date of this approval, the applicant shall submit a report prepared by a qualified professional, containing an assessment of the projects effectiveness, impacts on the shoreline, and recommendations for additional action. Should the measures be found to adversely impact the shoreline or other SMA resources, corrective action shall be identified and implemented, which may involve the removal or destruction of the sea bags.”

Yet here it is, nearly two decades later, and the sandbags remain in place, degrading the dune, hindering the natural movement of sand and potentially jeopardizing the county's adjacent Haena Beach Park.

The ocean has continued to eat away at the revetment, and in 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2006, a bulldozer covered the exposed sandbags with sand pushed up from the fronting and adjacent beach. 
To its credit, the DLNR denied a fifth request to excavate the beach to cover the sandbags, telling homeowners:

…sand pushing/scraping can destabilize the beach profile and actually increase beach loss and coastal land loss. This can, in some cases increase the steepness of the beach profile and accelerate erosion processes. 

In March 30, 2009, Sam Lemmo,  administrator of the state Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, advised property owners to "remove the temporary structure, or apply for a CDUA [permit] for permanent shore protection so this matter can be resolved.”

The county also weighed in, advising the owners it would be carefully scrutinizing the CDUA permit.

Meanwhile, the sandbags have been deteriorating into rubbish that creates an eyesore on the beautiful beach and poses harm to marine life. 
Other sandbags were dislodged from the revetment and trapped between the reef and rocks.
The beach has also become steeper, making it harding for endangered monk seals to haul out and rest in this marine conservation area.

And still the county and state allow the landowners to drag their feet as they upgrade their houses and repeatedly sell the multi-million-dollar properties. All five lots have changed hands — some of them multiple times — since the temporary sandbag revetment was installed.

One of the owners is Neal Norman, who acquired a lot for $1.35 million in 2000 and then sold it to his trust for $3.5 million at the end of 2008. How much of that increased value was due to the protective revetment, and the loss of the public beach?

In the midst of this mess, the state has approved construction of new houses on the two vacant lots behind the sandbags, imposing these conditions, among others:

This action by the board in no way legitimizes the sand bag groin on the seaward side of the property and the DLNR has the right to ask for removal of the structure should the landowner fail to comply with the County of Kauai Emergency permit (E)-97-03 declarations; or if it is determined that the structure is causing harm to the public beach.”

Condition #19 “No shoreline hardening, sandbags or other structures be allowed to artificially fix the shoreline for the life of the development. This condition shall be incorporated into the conditions for approval and filed with the Bureau of Conveyances.”

Longtime Haena residents Caren Diamond and Chipper Wichman have had enough. They're asking DLNR to order landowners to remove the sandbags and restore the beach to its natural condition. In an April 12, 2015 letter to Lemmo, they wrote:

In short, this has become a serious environmental problem - a problem that should have been rectified many years ago. While removing the revetment could have long-term stability consequences for the existing homes all of the current owners bought this property knowing that shoreline erosion at this location was a major issue and that the temporary revetment would have to be removed and that the permanent hardening of the shoreline would not be allowed as it is in conflict with the shoreline management policy of both the State of Hawaii and the County of Kaua‘i.

Our community is committed that this important public beach should not be armored but should be kept in its natural state.

The state, however, has punted to the county, saying the county needs to revoke its temporary permit before the state can act.

And all the while the bags keep falling apart, the sand keeps getting swept away and the properties keep increasing in value as the public beach pays the price.