Thursday, August 1, 2013

Musings: Team Purple

Yesterday's public hearing on pesticide/GMO Bill 2491 was akin to lancing a boil — though some yucky stuff oozed out, a lot of painful pressure was released, and perhaps the healing can now begin.

Much of the testimony was passionate and surprisingly compelling, and some interesting information came to light.

For instance, Dr. Richard Goding, an orthopedic surgeon, said he works all around the island, and in discussions with other physicians, it appears that westside kids are experiencing more nosebleeds and asthma than their eastside counterparts. The westside also seems to have cancer clusters and a higher rate of serious birth defects.

While the reports are all anecdotal, “we want to do the studies to confirm it,” Goding said, noting there appears to be “a very big difference in ailments” suffered by kids living in the Hanapepe to Kekaha corridor, compared to the Kapaa-Haena area. It's important to know what pesticides are being sprayed, Goding said, “so we can consider that” in diagnosing and treating patients.

Dr. Evslin submitted a letter in support of the bill “signed by most of the pediatricians on island.” He cited the 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement, which indicated that pesticide exposure may be “more of a problem than was known in the past” for kids and has “a big impact on the unborn.” Evslin said there should be a pesticide-free zone around schools.

Though Roundup use is not addressed by the bill, Evslin said there are numerous published scientific reports on the ill-effects of Roundup exposure, including its apparent ability to kill the good bacteria that live in our bodies and are crucial to digestion and strong immune systems.

Thomas Matsuda, pesticides program manager at the state Department of Agriculture, said sales records kept by the agency show that Kauai companies purchased “significantly less” than the 18 tons of restricted use pesticides (RUP) that bill supporters claim are used on-island each year. It sounded like 18 tons isn't a firm number, but was extrapolated from various reports. At any rate, that's going to be hashed out a bit more at Monday's Council committee hearing.

A worker for the chemical/seed companies pointed out that a number of pesticides approved for organic use have labels referencing deleterious environmental impacts, yet these substances, as well as products containing RUPs, can be purchased and used by citizens with no regulatory oversight or training. Others questioned whether the county was also going to look at the chemicals used by resorts, landscapers, swimming pool companies and its own agencies.

I was especially struck by the very different experiences that people are having. For example, a Waimea Valley mom said she hasn't opened the window in her kids' bedroom for four years because of fears about pesticide dust, and won't let her children linger in the bubble bath because she's worried about what's in the water. Contrast that to the lady who said she worked in the fields through two pregnancies and delivered healthy children, and the man who said he brought his days-old child to “the farm.”

One eyebrow-raiser came when Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura asked a field worker how much she was paid. When the woman demurred, JoAnn said she hoped company officials would provide that information. What has that got to do with this bill, and is it really the Council's kuleana to scrutinize the pay of private workers?

It also became evident pretty quickly that virtually all of those who spoke against the bill actually work in agriculture — many are from multi-generational farm families — whereas the majority of those who support the bill may at best maintain home gardens. Even though you may oppose pesticide use and conventional farming practices, I think you do have to concede that the people who are doing it probably know more about it than those of us who aren't.

Which brings me to the most heart wrenching aspect of this issue, and that's the employees, many of whom are former sugar workers from longtime westside families. I felt a lot of sympathy and compassion for them, because it was clear from their testimony that they take pride in their work. It must be pretty humiliating and painful to be suddenly treated like pariahs and accused of poisoning people and the aina.

It's very easy to diss the international chemical and pharmaceutical firms that own the seed companies and call for them to be expelled from the island. But it's not so easy to engage in that abstract demonization when the guy who runs the spray rig is standing right there saying he takes his job seriously, he is governed by numerous regulations and he would never do anything to harm his kids, his neighbors, the environment.

It was also apparent they're very afraid for their jobs right now. It doesn't really matter whether the fear is reasonable, or planted as a scare tactic by the owners. The workers are feeling it, and we need to have empathy for the stress, worry and deep uncertainty that such fear brings.

I've heard anti-GMO people express some pretty cavalier attitudes about the workers, stuff like, “it can't be that hard to come up with 500 jobs” and “oh, we can find something else for them to do.” But as we saw when sugar collapsed on the westside, it isn't a snap to find new jobs for those folks, which is why they're now working for the seed companies.

So it rang a little hollow when a KKCR talk show host who has relentlessly vilified the industry and its operations for months stood there in her red shirt and said, "We love you guys."

Oh, yes, I'm sure they're feeling the love.

As this contentious issue continues to be debated, I urge people to lose their blue and red tee-shirts and come together to listen, learn and craft solutions. If you combine red and blue, it makes purple, which just so happens to be Kauai's color.

The comments by Kepa Kruse, reported in today's The Garden Island, express that sentiment well:

Both sides are fighting for the same thing, their families,” he said. “One side is fighting to feed their families; the other side is fighting to feed their families good food.”

There has to be a unification of people for this to work,” Kruse said. “Otherwise, one side is going to lose.”


Anonymous said...

I was surprised by Joanne's question but after all the testimony about how they are making good wages and that for the workers it is all about jobs. It seems fair.

Joan there was quite a bit of testimony from farmers in support of the bill. I realize the percentage of farmers within the supporters was small but I did not hear any farmers that do not work for these companies stand up in opposition.

Anonymous said...

JoAnn, why do you go after that woman about her pay? What really does that have to do with the bill? I support the bill......but I also don't want to run our neighbors who work there into the ground with embarrassing questions.

Anonymous said...

IT was a great event in general.

People got to say their "truths", issues came up (county, golf course, etc. use of pesticides)....and people got to listen to the "other side" of the issue.

What was shocking was the bio-tech workers who were against the bill did not seem to be concerned about their health as much as the people who were for the bill.

The lawyers threats were not received well, nor did they make a good impression for Bio Tech.

Many of the supervisors and specialists who testified seemed very embedded in the corporate mind set......The Giant (Goliath) fighting the puny "hippies and trouble makers" and did not give me the impression that they cared much for the future of the soil and land, as well as the people who live here.

I think that shedding the colors would be a good step for unification. Making the workers the "bad guyz" will not advance the cause for less chemicals on the island.

But out of this whole event, I feel good things will come to fruition...eventually.

.....i.e., Made everyone more aware of chemicals, and brought the county into the picture as one of the large polluters of our island.

I was also disappointed in many of the questions JoAnn asked....not sure where her head is at these days.

Dr Shibai

Anonymous said...

Because that lady probably is sheltered from the exposure of toxic chemicals. Unlike her laborers who have to put the sabidong on and have to live, eat, breathe, and drink that toxic stuff.

Oh yeah her salary is probably at least 3x more than a servants hand.

I would trust the opinions/facts of the medical professions than some chem/bio slaves.

Anonymous said...

I did not know too much about this bill but I heard some testimony on the radio. Both sides had their points. It is not a clear black and white issue. People have misperceptions on both sides.

Anonymous said...

to clarify the first comment....I don't think she should have asked the woman who was testifying, that was rude, but it is fair to ask the company. Salaries should not be linked to individuals. Most of her questions were appropriate though and she certainly had more than the others.

Anonymous said...

A "job" is not everything in the world. Not even the most important. It's just a job, Joan.

Anonymous said...

Sodumb Insane must be rolling in his grave, saying "I told y'all that I didn't have no chemical or biological weapons, I just had me some round up and shit." yah heard me! I'm innocent-now give me back my life, liberty, and country.

Shokran Shokran very much!

Elaine Albertson said...

OK...people already know where I'm at on this, but hear this. One of my closest friends manages the spraying operations for one of the ag companies...a big one. I've known him for almost ten years. I've trusted him with my "six" as we both worked volunteer for Guardian Angels. He is a good man, provides for his family, does not judge, and is certainly not stupid. He knows more about chemical use than any of us could forget. He will always be my friend, and I will always trust him with my "six". That said...I grew up on a farm/ranch in the 50s/60s. We knew damn well not to use chemicals unless they were absolutely necessary...the last resort. It seems obvious to me, after a lot of reading and research into valid data from both views, that a primary tactic of these "ag" companies is to design seed that will require higher amounts of pesticides and herbicides (there is a difference) so that they can, in turn, make tons more money from those chemical sales.

I don't blame my friend for those facts. He does his job well, and stays within the legal guidelines (or at least I think he does). What is coming out of this is not his doing, but that of his employer who does not want us to know the real truth, and is doing everything in its power to suppress that truth.


Anonymous said...

What do the organic farmers pay the workers? I bet its a lot less than the biotech companies.

Anonymous said...

Good blog-
It is difficult to compare a "farm" on the Northshore with high real estate value, growing a couple of fruits with real ag work. If the northshore farmers had to capitalize their estates like real businesses do, a different tune would be played.
Whether a person is for GMO or not, the reality with this bill is that it is a "government taking". If the County can go after a company or person on a personal opinion on the health and safety of the business or action, as the legal criteria, that means at any time, this same county can go after any of you.........for virtually any reason.......remember Gary and Bynum as reps of Kauai have a lot of pull with State and Fed agencies.........if they think the GMOs are doing illegal spraying, sick the bureaucrats on them.
This is a dangerous precedent, to allow the County to have this power. The County already abuses the 4th amendment and go on any property they want.....we are all citizens and and we can all be subject this precedent......

Anonymous said...

How many people in blue shirts "for ag" are working in fields, growing food that we can eat?

Anonymous said...

The "I'm a registered voter" threat was irritating on both sides. The "we are the only viable ag on the island" by a biotech employee irked. Really? What about the farmers who sell their produce at the local markets where I and many other residents shop to feed their families? In my mind, those are real farmers because they feed us. I heard several north shore farmers testify in favor of the bill while I was there (4 hrs.) I do empathize with our west side families and understand the fear of unemployment. So what do we do? We need transparency and protection, and we need jobs. How do we meld the two? Its not black or white. Its not us against them. What is upsetting is that this is what these corporations do best, polarize and manipulate communities. I agree with Kepa.

Anonymous said...

Re "Most of her questions were appropriate though and she certainly had more than the others."
JoAnn couldn't control herself, and had to ask questions, the rest of the council has control over their mouths a bit more, and know the public hearing is for the people to talk, and them to listen. The questions and answers or more back and forth comes during the committee meetings

Anonymous said...

The State and County spray Roundup continuously throughout the island, as do many residents and businesses. I see browning grasses and other plants all over the place.

Anonymous said...

I will not be taking off my red shirt and trading it in for a purple one until this bill in some form passes. It is appropriate for the county to put reasonable restrictions in place. I am in the food industry and have a B.S. in biology. I have studied the issue and I do not trust the chemical companies. They are here now. They are spraying and planting dangerous things. You only get purple if you mix in some red. That red comes from Passing the BIll.

Anonymous said...

If you have a B.S. in biology you should apply for a job with the County. It's going to need someone with a science background to administer this bill. And your food industry experience will come in handy when you cook food for Bernard's fundraiser.

Anonymous said...

I'm not very impressed with our mayor and I am not interested in working for the County. I have my own company thank you. I am interested in Kauai being a safe place to live, to raise families and to work. Putting reasonable restrictions in place to protect people and the land is appropriated and needed.

Anonymous said...

If you are interested in Kauai being a safe place to live and the bill passes, why not consider using your science degree to work for the County in administering the bill? The County does not employ anyone with the background needed to make this bill work.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a thoughtful post.