Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Musings: Reassigning Blame

Now that Hawaii Dairy Farms has pulled its EIS, opponents are slathering at the opportunity to drive a final stake through the heart of the project.

Though HDF issued a press release vowing “we're not giving up,” it's unclear whether it actually can answer the concerns raised by the Office of Environmental Quality Control. One thing, however, is clear: it would be virtually impossible for a non-philanthropic entity to engage in this lengthy, costly, contentious process. So if this project dies, it's unlikely we'll see any new dairies in Hawaii — especially the small ones about which opponents rhapsodize.

And that will suit many just fine, even as they continue to preach the hollow doctrines of food security and sustainability.

Perhaps an operational missile interception site will be more to their liking than the “industrial agriculture” they revile. No nasty flies, pesticides or manure to worry about. And it sounds like Schatz and Tulsi are down for it.

Despite all the anti-ag activism, I'm beginning to think that it might actually be possible to feed Hawaii, seeing as how the antis have very low standards when it comes to locally grown produce:
Now that's some sorry ass lettuce. But hey, if she's happy with it....

After catching flack for pursuing legislative bills that harm farmers, Hawaii Center for Food Safety has changed its messaging, if not its actual strategy or goals:
Meanwhile, CFS continues to ignore the fact that homeowners misusing pesticide products are the real, true problem. After all, they caused nearly all the school evacuations, and they are the reason why Oahu's urban streams have the highest pesticide levels in the Islands. Shoots, even the pesticides supposedly found in hair samples taken from Malia Chun's kids came predominantly from domestic sources.

Rep. Lynn DeCoite, a Molokai Hawaiian homestead farmer and vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee, touched on this point in a Maui News commentary:

Punish those that do wrong. I fully agree with that. Fine them — fine everyone who breaks the rules. But if the evacuations of schools were caused by pesticide use by homeowners, then why are we turning the blame on others?

In order to keep our communities safe, we need to know who and what to keep them safe from. And it is the responsibility of everyone in a community to know how to use pesticides safely. This is why I feel these regulations should apply to everyone.

For this bill [HB 1571], and many like it, the real focus should be education and prevention. Let’s not jump the gun. This could be the difference between our food being sustainable or not.

I continue to be fascinated by the process of idealizing and romanticizing agriculture and sustainability in Hawaii. It's led to some really amazing revionist history and super creative alternative facts, while deifying demagogues. Most recently, we see this dynamic at play in a short film eulogizing Molokai. The narrator intones:

Molokai is now positioned to chart the way forward for the planet by developing new models of sustainability based on the indigenous wisdom of ancient Hawaii.

Really? Is anyone anywhere actually looking at Molokai as the model for anything? If the planet's future depends on Molokai charting the way, we're really fucked.

The piece prominently features Molokai activist Walter Ritte, who is slated to be the subject of his very own documentary by the same filmmaker. It includes Walter's unintentionally amusing comment:

And then we have these outside forces coming in and they want to change things.

Funny to hear Walter grouse about that, seeing as how much money he's raked in from the “outside forces” funding Hawaii SEED. These same “outside forces” have also bankrolled AINA, Poisoning Paradise, Island Earth and the other anti-GMO, back to the 'o'o videos circulating among the “aloha aina” crowd, which is itself comprised largely of “outside forces” who moved to Hawaii looking for their little piece of paradise.

Of course, Walter has his cash cow — and in upcoming days I'll be delving deeper into the money that's flowing into the Hawaii anti-GMO movement. So why should he be concerned about destroying economic opportunities for his fellow Molokai residents, many of whom are acutely aware of the reality that the seed companies, government jobs and welfare are the three largest “employers?” As this Hawaii Business report noted:

“There was always something else. When pineapple closed, the resorts were there. When the ranch closed, Monsanto was still there. There was always an answer. We don’t have the answer now.”

—Kimberly Mikami Svetin, Store owner

Guess she hasn't heard that Walter's got it all nailed down.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Musings: Hubris and Huhu

As the Kauai anti-GMO forces continue to shred one another over money and celebrity access, they're confirming everything I've reported about how Hawaii activists were used as pawns by mainland groups.

The most recent spat started when Fern Rosenstiel gushed over Pierce and Keely Brosnan at a sparsely-attended Los Angeles screening of an anti-GMO propaganda piece that Keely produced with attorney Teri Tico:
This folly earned the wrath of Kaiulani Mahuka, who rightly recalled how the Brosnans had diverted water from the late Cathy Ham Young's taro patch for their landscape ponds, leaving her loi high and dry. And when she prevailed legally, they appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court. Correction: The Bosnans prevailed in legal action, prompting Ham Young to file an appeal. Not to mention how the Bosnans blocked access by planting the public beach in front of their North Shore Kauai vacation rental:
Yes, just as I've been saying all along, the Hawaii anti-GMO movement is not and never has been a homespun, grassroots effort. It was orchestrated by Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety, which relied upon Paul Achitoff and Andrew Kimbrell, respectively, to write a bad bill that, as Kaiulani points out, made NO DIFFERENCE — except, of course, to the fundraising efforts of those two groups.

When the courts ruled that county laws were pre-empted by the state, the two groups were able to use that decision to solicit donations to continue the fight they started, and surely knew they would lose.

While some of the actvists are waking up, others continue to pander and pose, most notably Maui Rep. Kaniela Ing. He and another anti-GMO pawn, Councilman Alika Atay, are quoted in a terribly biased Huffington Post piece that calls on people to “'bring your emotions and stories to overcome the political skill,' power, and government-corrupting influence of A&B” at the Commission on Water Resource and Management hearings later this week.

Yeah, no need bring facts. Just emotions and stories. Because that worked so well in demonizing the seed companies and frightening people about non-existent pesticide risks. Surely CWRM can be similarly swayed to make a bad decision, if enough folks cry and rant.

The article shares this nugget:

Ing believes that Maui’s “agricultural future must be centered around leasing small plots to small, innovative farmers and allowing shared equipment though co-owned ag parks. Let’s democratize the plantation. We have an opportunity to set an example of self-sustainability for the world.”

Yet with no trace of irony, the article then quotes Maui Councilwoman Kelly King:

“My biggest concern with A&B’s “plan,” and I use that term lightly, King observes, is that it ignores the essential question of who is going to do the farming? Not one acre has been leased to a local farm. We need a system that we can trust.”

But somehow King and Ing believe that the lack of farmers will not be an issue under Ing's model. Or maybe they're counting on a whole new group of dreamers, recruited by Atay:

Looking at Standing Rock, whose flame is being dispersed to ecological struggles by native peoples around the world, Atay, in his barrel chested voice, proclaims: “Water and earth protectors, Maui needs you.”

Poor Maui. It's now in the thick of what Kauai endured, before voters wised up and rejected single-issue, self-interested politicians like Fern and her cronies, Dustin Barca, Gary Hooser and Felicia Cowden.

Ing, exercising his best revolutionary rhetoric, then espouses:

“Maui is set to be an example of regenerative and sustainable agriculture,” Ing observes. “But we’re going to need some serious political disruption in order to do that.”

Uh, no, what you're going to need are some people who actually know WTF they're doing agriculturally. Unless Ing plans to use conscripted labor and government subsidies to support his miracle formula of "biofuel crops like sunflowers, local food like mangos and avocados, and hemp and bamboo for a variety of uses."

Which brought to mind this Tweet by a new farmer:
So how is is that Ing, a bureaucrat, has the hubris to dictate how farming is done on Maui, and elsewhere around the state?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Musings: So Much Hot Air

That hackneyed buzzword "sustainability" reared its ugly head today in a letter to the editor from the Hawaii Farmers Union (HFU) opposing the Mahaulepu dairy.

Aside from the very relevant question of whether the HFU, which produces just a tiny fraction of Hawaii's agricultural product, should dictate policies and practices, there is that niggling issue of WTH actually constitutes sustainability on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific.

In her letter, Kapaa resident Eden Marie Peart writes:

[I]t is important for the public to understand the difference between HDF’s industrial dairy, with a large herd on limited acreage, and a sustainable dairy with sufficient acreage.

However, Peart doesn't put forth an image or definition of what a "sustainable dairy with sufficient acreage" would look like on Kauai. Nor does she tell us about HFU's own efforts to create the ideal it imagines. Instead — and this is what really bothers me about HFU and the antis they so often align with — she merely criticizes what is being proposed as not good enough.
Peart tells us that the National Farmers Union policy states a dairy program should "encourage and enable producers to use sustainable environmental practices” and “assist new farmers entering into farming,” before dismissing Hawaii Dairy Farms (HDF) as failing on both counts.

But HDF believes its rotational pasture model — based on New Zealand practices — is sustainable because it reduces the amount of imported fodder required to feed livestock. It also makes use of the manure to fertilize the grazing paddocks so they can produce fresh grass.

What's more, HDF will be contracting with local cattlemen to take the male calves, which enhances the sustainability of their ranching operations, and it provides a market for farmers — onstensibly some of whom may be "new" — who want to grow livestock fodder. If that production is able to reduce the importation of feed, it would boost the sustainability not only of the dairy, but others raising livestock on-island.

I was recently in New Zealand (where these pictures were taken) and while that country has had environmental problems associated with its dairy industry, largely because it is has expanded so widely and rapidly, its pasture-based model is nothing like the confined field lots of the US mainland, or the operation previously at Moloaa.
Peart also errs in stating the dairy would "imperil Kauai’s drinking water and wreak ecological havoc." Neither scenario is likely, according to the EIS, and Peart offers no documentation to support her assertions. We're just supposed to take her word for it, and join her in rejecting the project because it is "clearly contrary to the policy of the National Farmers Union."

Again, who cares what NFU thinks? They're a new organization in Hawaii, and their members have done precious little to actually advance productive agriculture in the Islands.

Peart then sniffs that the dairy "would regressively take us in a diametrically opposite direction from the food sovereignty that Hawaii and the world require for a livable future."

If she and others kill the Hawaii Dairy Farms project, there is no alternative dairy — sustainable or otherwise — waiting in the wings to take its place. Instead, it just means a perpetuation of the status quo: importing milk from the mainland. Or alternatively, more resort/tourism development. How can either of those scenarios be considered any more sustainable than the Mahaulepu dairy?

But HFU and other groups like it don't look at things in their real world context. Instead, they seek only their vision of perfection — even if failing to realize that goal means a perpetuation of practices that are clearly not sustainable.

Robert Zelkovsky, the Surfrider PR person who posts under the name "Dr Surf," has also criticized the dairy for failing to meet his definition of sustainability:

So what part of this operation IS sustainable? In ecology, sustainability (from sustain and ability) is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Is it petroleum based fertilizer they say they will use? Nope. Is it the fuel used transporting milk to O`ahu for processing? Nope. Is it the gmo chem fed based feed they say they will need more and more of as time goes on? Nope. Is it the fuel used in transporting the calves continually born to the pregnant lactating cows? Nope.

To which I would respond, so tell us, Dr Surf, what part of your own life on Kauai is sustainable? Do you drive a car? Use electricity? Consume any food or other products imported from anywhere? Drink water? Buy any disposable products? Use any shipping services? Travel by airplane? Live in a house made from imported, termite-treated materials?

Like so many of the antis — and I'm willing to bet Peart is the same — he himself is living unsustainably even as he demands sustainability from a Kauai-based agricultural enterprise.

This double-standard continues to hinder agriculture in Hawaii, even as its proponents remain blind to both their hypocrisies and their own unsustainable existences in their adopted "paradise."

We all know it's virtually impossible to achieve true sustainability, especially on a remote island, and much less while turning a profit. If a dairy bankrolled by one of the world's richest men can't make it, what hope is there for the sustainable small farmer of Peart's bucolic dreams?

Before Peart and Dr Surf pass judgment on the dairy, they should examine their own lives and move forward with a viable alternative to HDF. Otherwise, it's just so much hot air, and with global temperatures rising, that's not sustainable, either.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Musings: Ethics & Issues Around New Gene Technologies

While flying across America's heartland yesterday, I was reminded of why there's “big ag.” And that's because it's a big country — something that people in Hawaii tend to forget.
I'm here in cold and snowy Boston at the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science — the world's largest general scientific community. Though the program is packed with interesting stuff, the hot topic of gene editing is front and center.

This morning I attended a press briefing where six scientists spoke about the ethical, social and regulatory issues associated with gene editing and gene drives. They also touched on the implications of gene editing in animals, such as disease-carrying mosquitoes, and viruses, with the goal of driving them to extinction.

George Church, of the Harvard Medical School, said researchers and policy-makers are now grappling with this key question: “What do we determine as zero or acceptable risk to the environment versus the millions of [human] lives at stake?”

Richard Hynes, a scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, served on the National Academy of Sciences' international panel that recently released seven general principles for the governance of human genome editing. He said the panel agreed it would be alright to edit heritable human genes, but only with stringent oversight and to prevent and treat severe diseases — not for “enhancement.”

He said it likely would be several years before scientists are able to safely and effectively edit human genes. Meanwhile, some of the public concerns about using the technology to create a “master race” are premature.

“We have no idea how to make designer babies,” Hynes said. “It's a fantasy at the moment.”

It's also “not that easy to do this,” he noted. For example, scientists still don't know what genes govern intelligence, and some 700 genes are involved in determining height.

Josephine Johnston is part of a project with the Hastings Center in New York that is looking at the social and cultural impacts of gene editing, such as how it might affect the rights of the disabled, authenticity and identity issues, and the nature of parenting itself, especially in regard to giving parents more control and choices in their offspring.

Gary Marchant, a law professor at Arizona State University, also served on the NAS panel, which grappled with the question of international laws and regulations governing gene editing. Though science is global, laws are nation-specific, so it's unlikely identical laws will be adopted around the world. Instead, most countries are likely to focus on safety and efficacy.

Jennifer Kuzma, of North Carolina State University, said US policies need to be “bolstered” to respond to the new technology. As an example, she used the transgenic mosquito, which has been engineered to carry a lethal gene that causes larvae to die. It is currently regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), which has no mechanism for assessing environmental harms, and can't really assess the safety of processes that are designed to kill.

I asked what sort of enforcement would accompany regulations, particularly in the global sphere, and with applications that would be released into the environment.

Marchant said the NAS panel discussed that issue, and scientists had objected strongly to the concept of an international police force that could enter labs and destroy research. Instead, a more informal approach is envisioned, such as journals, institutions, granting agencies and professional societies only supporting research that complies with ethical guidelines.

Patents are another effective means for controlling and regulating the use of the technology, Church said, though patent-holders would need to register in each nation.

Kuzma said regulations also fail to take into account the “do-it-yourselfers” who are able to easily access the technology of gene drives and CRISPR.

Another reporter asked whether the “lethal gene” could be used to wipe out humans. Church said it works best with species that have a fast reproduction cycle, such as mice and insects. Furthermore, one of the first things scientists looked at in developing gene drives was how to reverse it, so that could also stop its spread through humans. “It would not be the method of choice for terrorism,” he said.

In Hawaii, there's been some discussion of using gene drives to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmit avian malaria, which is devastating native bird populations. A trial release already has been approved for the Florida Keys, where officials think the transgenic mosquitoes could help them reduce nearly all insecticides used to control mosquitoes that carry Zika and other viruses.

In an ironic twist to the anti-GMO fight we see being waged in Hawaii, where opponents are now focusing on pesticides, some Keys' residents “have vowed to hire private pest control crews to kill the GM bugs,” according to stat

So if activists can no longer use the fear of pesticides argument against GMOs, or claim they're being developed solely so multinational companies can sell more pesticides/herbicides, what will be the next bogeyman raised?

And if the technology is being used to protect endemic species — the true natives — isn't that in alignment with the concept of aloha aina?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Musings: Love, Science

In honor of Valentine's Day, I wanted to share some of the "love letters from science" that I created for the Cornell Alliance for Science, as well as excerpts from a collection of quotes I compiled that reflect the dedication that many genetic engineers have to making the world a better place.
“I don’t want a future where people are afraid to use the science to get food. I want a future where all the people around the world have enough food and nobody dies from hunger.” — Luis Ventura, a biologist on the faculty of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and an Alliance for Science 2016 Global Leadership Fellow.
“This kind of work is not for the faint-hearted. This kind of work is for people who have a passion to help people. It was in our hearts to make a difference.” — Dennis Gonsalves, a Hawaii-born Cornell University researcher who developed a transgenic papaya resistant to the ringspot virus.
“I’ve always focused primarily on edible crops because I’m interested in helping to feed people.” — Susan Miyasaka, a University of Hawaii agronomist who chose her field after being deeply moved by accounts of global famines while attending college.
“Nitrogen is such a big problem in food production and it’s such a limitation to so many farmers around the world. If I can solve that, and increase food production in Africa, and at the same time remove one of the major pollutants in the world, I’ll be a very happy man.” — Giles Oldroyd, plant scientist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England, who is working on ENSA: Engineering the Nitrogen Symbiosis for Africa.
“I wanted a job that could help me develop new crop varieties in response to some of the challenges that I had faced as a farmer. That year [2009], people in Uganda died due to lack of food from the drought. I thought God had failed my crops so I could help farmers.” — Clet Wandui Masiga, 2015 Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow, conservation biologist, geneticist, and farm entrepreneur in Uganda.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Musings: Creagan's Attack on Ag

As chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Richard Creagan is systematically undermining farming in the Islands.

Ironically, Creagan is a farmer. But of the well-heeled, gentrified, “made my money elsewhere, don't depend on a harvest to live” variety. Which may explain why he's been pushing measures that over-regulate commercial farmers and allow ag land to be used for purposes other than farming.

Last Friday, his committee passed HB 778, which would allow housing on privately-owned ag lands with a C,D or E classification, and no associated farm use. It's ostensibly intended to promote affordable housing. But the way the bill is written, it's going to result in either more gentrification, ag shanty towns, or a combination of both. Why? Because the bill contains this disturbing line:

the authorization of dwelling units under this paragraph shall not be subject to regulation by a county;

The preamble references the use of water catchment systems and composting toilets to minimize infrastructure costs, and metal roofing and other low-grade building materials to keep construction costs under $100 per square foot.

It also references, ominously, what is perhaps the true motivation for the bill:

On another island, Ireland, agriculture has been supported and enhanced by the on-farm presence of thousands of bed-and-breakfast accommodations and farm-stay units.

Oh, so is that where this is headed? A tool for legitimizing illegal TVRs on ag land? And opening up even more ag land to tourism? It would seem so, given another bill that Creagan co-sponsored promoting “ag commerce” and repealing a law that required counties to adopt ordninances regulating ag tourism. Fortunately, that bill now appears dead.

Curiously, Creagan has been pushing bills advanced by the anti-GMO crowd that give counties home rule in regard to pesticides. But he doesn't want to give counties any say over substandard housing and tourism on ag lands.

As the state Land Use Commission noted in its opposing testimony, HB 778 would impact 91 percent of the state's ag lands:

“With no requirement that such residential dwellings be accessory to agricultural activity; the State Agricultural District will become meaningless."

So you cripple productive “big ag” with unnecessary regulations — pushed by the anit-GMO fear-mongers that Creagan caters to — and then you render the rest of the ag designation meaningless. Who wins? Why the real estate agents, of course.

The state Office of Planning's testimony nailed it:

“Land values would increase due to the residential allowance, making it more costly for farmers to acquire land for agricultural production. Rural sprawl would make it more difficult and costly for the county to provide public services and infrastructure including roads, water, and sewer.”

As Scott Enright, chair of the state Department of Ag, noted in his testimony:

This measure states that single-family dwellings can be built on land classified within the Agricultural District without showing the connection with a farm, or where agricultural activity provides income to the family occupying the dwelling. Long-standing State and County planning and zoning laws are contradicted with this measure and we respectfully ask that this measure be deferred.

The only testimony in support came from Board of Ag member Simon Russell, who also serves on the Hawaii Farmers Union United — an organization comprised primarily of yardners, gentleman farmers and dabblers who produce very little commercial product but are keen to dictate how ag should be done in the Islands. Gee, wonder why they aren't worried about the rising cost of ag land?

According to Big Island video news:

Creagan’s [campaign] website also states that he supports “the emerging role of the Farmer’s Union United as a strong voice for the small farms and family farms of Hawaii. The Farmer’s Union supports the small farmer in competing for land and water with the GMO seed corn companies who contribute nothing to the food needs of Hawaii.”

It's unfortunate that Creagan has bought into this myth. Surely as chair of the Ag committee he should know there are thousands of acres of fallow ag land, just waiting for farmers. So where are they? Why hasn't HFUU produced any? 

Creagan and his supporters are also keen to ignore the fact landowners can have their property reclassified into the rural or urban district if they want to develop housing. Passing a bill that opens up virtually all of Hawaii's ag lands to wholesale, uncontrolled development is a travesty — except to the anti-ag/anti-GMO folks who have found in Creagan a champion for their goal of destroying viable farming in the Islands.

On a related note, isn't it a tad inappropriate for Edward G. (Ted) Bohlen, a deputy attorney general assigned to the state Department of Health, and legal counsel for the Hawai'i Environmental Council and Office of Environmental Quality Control, to be advocating on behalf of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety's political action fund?
And finally, KKCR has firmly cemented its role as official Kauai echo chamber with its newest talk show host: failed politician Gary Hooser.

Yes, starting tonight Hooser will have an hour to make any kine, using the taxpayer-funded public airways of Kauai's supposed “community radio station.” It's going to be tough to avoid those prohibited “calls to action” while encouraging listeners to "engage and impact both policy decisions and the political landscape at all levels.” But hey, maybe he'll be the one to finally cause KKCR to lose its license.

In blogging about his new show, Hooser also referenced — without a trace of irony — the KKCR-Kekahu Foundation mission statement. It directs the station to “reflect the diversity of the local and world community...provide a forum for overlooked, suppressed, or under-represented voices.” 

Yeah, so let's bring on one more mainland haole repeating more of the same old shit you hear on all the other KKCR shows. The Kauai anti-GMO propaganda machine just keeps on churning....

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Musings: Opening Salvo

It isn't every day that a politician puts his head into the lion's mouth.

But Kauai Councilman Derek Kawakami bravely did just that, publishing a guest column in today's The Garden Island that states his unequivocal support for the contentious Hawaii Dairy Farms project at Mahaulepu.

Yes, at a time when far too many lily-livered legislators are kowtowing and pandering to the anti-ag activists haunting the capitol, Derek stood up solidly for ag. More important, he made it clear today that he believes his political future lies with those who support ag — not the antis.

As one political observer noted:

It does occur to me that this is Derek's first big salvo in the 2018 mayoral race, positioning himself as a strong, thorough, literate, rational opinion leader, willing to take a controversial but right position — in the face of active opposition.
And as TGI reported, that opposition is not pleased with his stance:

FOM [Friends of Mahulepu] is scheduling a meeting with Kawakami to supply him with the information they believe he is lacking.

No doubt. Now if only FOM would be similarly receptive to a meeting that supplied its members with the information they most decidely are lacking — along with the cranial capacty to process it.

Still, it's a profound statement on the sad state of affairs miring Hawaii agriculture when an elected official actually has to write a commentary supporting a local food initiative — on Important Ag Lands, no less — while reminding people that HDF “deserves the chance to operate” and the alternatives might be worse:

It is not realistic to think that if Hawaii Dairy Farms is prohibited from being on the land, that nothing will ever go there.

Unless, of course, those alternative uses — gentleman's estates, hotels, vacation homes, exclusive enclaves for the uber rich — are what the real estate- and tourism-friendly antis have been seeking all along.

Shoots, it's already happening on Maui, where the antis couldn't wait to destroy sugar. As Pacific BusinessNews reported yesterday:

A California businessman has purchased about 340 acres of agricultural land [in Paia] on Maui from Alexander & Baldwin Inc. for nearly $10 million.

This sale was unique in that we received an unsolicited offer to purchase the property, and we determined that due to its size and location, a sale would not negatively impact our efforts to pursue our diversified agricultural plan,” [A&B spokesman Darren Pai] said.

Gonna be awfully hard for the communal kale cultivators and hemp hawkers to compete, what with Maui ag land now going for $29,000 an acre.

But Hawaii isn't the only place where ag is struggling. The elitist foodies and ag Utopians may soon realize their cherished dream of dismantling “industrial ag” — though it will come at a very human cost. As reports:

Across the heartland, a multiyear slump in prices for corn, wheat and other farm commodities brought on by a glut of grain world-wide is pushing many farmers further into debt. Some are shutting down, raising concerns that the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s.

Farming has always been a boom-and-bust enterprise. Today, the swings are sharper and less predictable now that the farm economy has become more international, with more countries growing food for export as well as for their own populations.

American farmers’ share of the global grain trade has fallen from 65% in the mid-1970s to 30% today, giving them less sway over prices. More producers and more buyers around the world also mean more potential disruptions from bad weather, famine or political crisis.

Corn prices once varied year-to-year by less than $1 a bushel. Since 2006 they have shot up and dropped more than $4 a bushel.

Large-scale operations now account for half of U.S. agricultural production. Most farms, even some of the biggest, are still run by families. As farm sizes jumped, their numbers fell, from six million in 1945 to just over two million in 2015, nearing a threshold last seen in the mid-1800s. Total acres farmed in the U.S. have dropped 24% to 912 million acres.

In the late 1970s, [Lee Scheufler] joined thousands of farmers in Washington for a demonstration urging the government to address low grain prices and farm foreclosures. As some drove their tractors onto the National Mall, his group rang a bell every five minutes to symbolize the rate at which farms were closing. He has been reminded of those days often this year.

The potential for a big crisis is real,” he said. “If things stay similar to how they are now, you haven’t seen anything yet.”

The article was sent to me by a friend, whose family still farms a seven-generation corn and soybean operation in the Midwest. When I remarked on the complexities of agriculture, especially in today's international market she replied:

That’s why I do an eye roll on the anti-ag people on Kauai in a tizzy on your blog. They have no clue what it takes to farm.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Musings: Slug Fest

The “slug fest” — to use Rep. Kaniela Ing's term — continues at the Hawaii state legislature, and in Washington, D.C., too.

Yeah, that's how we do politics now. Every vote is to the mat, with the hopes of inflicting crushing defeat — or better yet, lethal injury — on one's opponent. Doesn't matter how much ideology must be invoked, how many lies must be told.

How else to explain Ing's disingenuous claim in announcing his “proud” vote in support of mandating pesticide disclosure and buffer zones from “chemical ag corporations like Monsanto?”

Too often, these corporations hide what they spray and the scientific risks involved. But we know better. In recent years, children from 16 Hawai'i schools were forced to evacuate and sent to hospitals due to pesticide exposure.

Yes, but not one of those evacuations was caused by the seed companies. Does Ing not know this? Or is he simply not bothered by lying — as we saw during his recent plea bargain?
So Ing and his pals — including Reps. Richard Creagan and Cynthia Thielen — are busy pandering to the loud, well-funded, anti-GMO crowd, passing pesticide bills that are intended stick it to the seed companies. In actuality, they're pounding more nails into the coffin of Hawaii agriculture.

And all the while they're ignoring science, budget considerations, their larger constituency and common sense. How else to explain passing a bill that requires buffer zones between crops and schools, but allows the application of pesticides directly in the schools themselves?

But hey, when you're in a “slug fest,” all you care about is winning — not making good laws or doing what's best for the entire community.

Make no mistake, it's a slug fest here in the Islands when it comes to agriculture. On the one hand, you have actual bona fide farmers — people who have spent their lives working the land and are fighting to see ag continue. On the other, you have the activists, many of them Hawaii newcomers and virtually none of them with any true farming experience. Some haven't even had a garden.

But they've seen social media images of how agriculture should be — communal, organic, local — and they like it. Even if it doesn't make economic, environmental or practical sense. Even if it's totally elitist and ignores the poorest members of society. Even if its adoption would require intense social control and would most likely end in failure and famine, as has occurred repeatedly in recent history when that same experiment has been tried.

Their indoctrination continues with an unrelenting stream of propaganda, such as surfer Cyrus Sutton's “Island Earth” video, which "coincidentally" is circulating the state now, served up by the Hawaii Center for Food Safety and Hawaii SEED.

How is it that surfers have developed such expertise on ag? Or is it just that they're used, like the now disgruntled Dustin Barca, to make the anti-ag movement seem so cool and hip?

Meanwhile, McKay Jenkins, who calls himself an “environmental journalist,” is promoting “Food Fight,” his book pushing a new food system. But when you read the piece he wrote for Outside, which parrots all the anti lines, it's obvious he's just trying to put a new shade of lipstick on the same old pig.

Unfortunately, their utopianism defies the sniff test, by which I mean reality. Take, for example, a recent article in the Maui News:

Brandon Shim, a produce purchaser at HFM Foodservice on Maui, said he would like to buy more local items, but he must turn to Mainland businesses because they can generate the volume needed for distribution. But Mainland farmers also have lower land and labor costs than local farmers, he said.

Currently Shim said he has to import 80 percent of the produce from an out-of-state distribution company, leaving only 20 percent of his produce local, just because of the sheer volume he needs.

So while there's an awful lot of talk, it's not translating into the hard work of farming.

Meanwhile, the dreamy-eyed antis are trying to stop the dreaded “industrial ag” in its tracks — and imposing more costly and burdensome regulations on local ag in the process.

The Maui News piece reminded of a really good article by farmer Chris Newman titled “Why the Local Food Movement Needs to Stop Congratulating Itself.” The author was digging into federal procurement records and started making some comparisons:

Even the small orders were for staggering amounts of food: 5,000 lbs of ground beef here, 2,000 lbs of chicken leg quarters there, 2,500 lbs of turkey breast over here. The smaller offerings typically involved at least 10,000 lbs of meat. The larger orders shot north of a quarter-million pounds.

This, of course is just the tip of the iceberg. My “Meats” search yielded 18 pages of results (the awards I’ve mentioned were just the first few on the first page), and all 18 pages were just for the Bureau of Prisons. BoP has to feed the roughly 190,000 people in Federal lockup. Compare this to the 1.5 million active duty personnel in the U.S. military, and I shudder to think how much meat is procured by the U.S. Army alone. Then of course there’s all the institutional food procurement that goes on outside the aegis of the Fed; public schools and universities, hospitals, prisons and other institutions run at the state, county, or municipal level. All of them are contracting their food needs to the lowest bidder.

Take a farm like Virginia’s own Polyface Farms of Swoope, VA. By the standards of farms that produce real, wholesome, ecologically-oriented food, Polyface is a behemoth. When Michael Pollan made them famous back in 2006, they were producing some 125,000 pounds of beef, chicken, and pork every single year.* Assuming they’ve increased production four-fold since then (this is a VERY generous assumption based on my own observations of the farm), Polyface cranks out a half-million pounds of meat per year.

This seems like a lot, until you realize that this monster farm’s entire annual production would barely fill two of the hundreds of meat requisitions put out by JUST the Bureau of Prisons last year. Add in all the other federal and non-Federal institutional demand discussed earlier, and you realize just how tiny a drop in the bucket even the flagship farm of the real-food movement is.

So maybe, before the antis demolish what some people have worked their lifetimes to achieve, they should be putting a little more effort into actually building what they envision.

McCay ended his anti-GMO screed with a quote from Gary Hooser likening the Hawaii anti-GMO movement to the Standing Rock protests. Hooser's cultural co-opting aside, yes, it is very similar to the part of the protest that had all the wannabees and cause du jour types flocking to North Dakota and weighing in on an issue, their opinions shaped solely by their social media echo chambers — and then leaving a huge mess for others to clean up.

Right now, those of us who are fighting to preserve ag in Hawaii are watching the antis and their legislative champions — most notably Kaniela Ing and Rep. Chris Lee (who, btw, has never actually held a job and still lives at home) — make a mess and burn it all down. 

It remains to be seen whether a Phoenix rises from their ashes, or just more of the guinea grass, albezia and African tulip trees that now cover so much of Hawaii's abandoned ag land.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Musings: What I Do

A persistent critic in comments keeps asking what, exactly, I do for the Cornell Alliance for Science. It's actually pretty easy to find out, since my work is posted on the Alliance website and searchable under my byline.

But I'll make it even easier, by summarizing some of it here.

I've written about the National Academy of Sciences' study on GMO crops, attempts to save the iconic American chestnut through genetic engineer, and the efforts of an Indian scientist to confer the pest-repelling properties of garlic and onions on other veggies. I've written about the climate impacts of a GMO ban, transgenic animal research, and what farmers need in India.

Most recently, I wrote about a project that is tweaking the process of photosynthesis to improve yields of cassava, which has tremendous implications for the 800 million persons who depend on that food crop in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

I've worked on a number of videos, including the half-hour documentary on the rise of the anti-GMO movement in Hawaii and its impact on the ringspot-resistant papaya; the fast-growing AquaBounty salmon; climate change in Hawaii, and the adoption of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh, which has helped farmers there greatly reduce their use of pesticides and earn higher profits.

I've written about the work of Dr. Susan Miyasaka, whose former graduate student successfully engineered a variety of Chinese taro resistant to taro leaf blight. But then misinformed, loud-mouthed activists like Walter Ritte got involved and UH caved and destroyed that research. It didn't even involve Haloa. It was Chinese taro, worked on by a Chinese scientist. But then, nuances and accuracy have never been the strong suit of the antis.

I've also written about a project funded by the US government, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that is using both genetic engineer and conventional breeding to develop drought-tolerant corn for Africa, with the seed controlled by African companies. 

Right now, I'm working on a video about some really cool research that is attempting to replicate the nitrogen-fixing capabilites of legumes (beans and peas) in crops like barley and corn. It has the potential to improve yields for small farmers, and also reduce the huge agricultural pollution problem of nitrogen, which is an issue for both organic and conventional farmers.

In doing this work, I've met some brilliant scientists, dedicated farmers and amazing citizens who are driven by the desire to ease hunger and poverty and make the world a better place. They're working to reduce pollution, boost the sustainability and productivity of agriculture and improve food security around the globe.

My work with the Alliance keeps me focused primarily on the hopeful, positive side of biotech, and the really good people who are working in that field. It gives me the passion and motivation to keep slogging through the ugly, depressing side of biotech, as represented by the fact-challenged, demagogue-dominated anti-GMO movement.

That's the side I cover in this blog, using my own time and my own resources. It's not unlike what I've been doing with this blog for the past nine years, when I wrote about the ugly side of Hawaii and Kauai politics, the prosecutor's office, the vacation rental industry, beach and shoreline access, drug abuse, domestic violence and so many other topics.

I keep covering the anti-GMO movement in Hawaii because it's pervasive and persistent. Just this week, Outside published a partisan screed that contained flat out lies. Meanwhile, the "Island Earth" video, yet another propaganda piece extolling the virtues of 'o'o agriculture and the horrors of modern farming, is making the rounds. 

Sadly, people believe this stuff and it's motivating at least some of them to attack Hawaii agriculture, which is already struggling. 

So you have to start thinking about, who, exactly, benefits from pushing the perception that the land in Hawaii has been poisoned by sugar and seeds —that it's too poisonous to farm?

You guessed it: the real estate industry. Which is why it's no surprise that Hawaii Life, the premier gentrifier of ag land in the Islands, has been a big supporter of the anti-GMO movement, right along with the "nonprofit" groups that raise money via fear-mongering and the organic industry that profits from GMO fears.

So I have to laugh when people get so upset by my little blog and the work of the Alliance. Yes, God forbid there should be a voice or two in the wilderness attempting to share accurate info and directly counter the huge anti-GMO propaganda machine. 

As for industry, it isn't doing much, and what it is doing is late, and not nearly enough. Though that is not meant in any way as a criticism of the Hawaii people working on its behalf — people for whom I've developed a great deal of respect.

I'm not industry's voice, nor do I work for it. If I did, I wouldn't be letting liars like Outside's McKay Jenkins get away with writing this kind of bullshit:

They plant these seeds, then spray them with a wide variety of chemicals that are designed to kill weeds and insects. When they find food crops that can stand up to these toxins, they begin the process of taking them to market.

Yes, this belief still prevails among antis because industry has not done a good job of explaining to people what it does here in the Islands. And pesticide testing isn't part of, despite what people like Gary Hooser, Ashley Lukens and Jeri DiPietro claim.

Still, I did find a bit of pleasure in reading McKay when he told of Gary Hooser's response to losing his Council seat and the court decision overturning Hawaii's failed GMO laws: “Each incident was like a gut punch.”

Every now and then, justice is served. And that, like the good stuff, keeps me chugging along.