A friend texted a link early this morning with the comment:
Tripe in an otherwise usually responsible news source.
The otherwise usually responsible news source is the The Guardian. The tripe is Christopher Pala's hit piece, “Pesticides in paradise: Hawaii's spike in birth defects put focus on GM crops.”
Gosh, I thought. Has the state finished updating its birth defect study and found there really has been a spike?
Nope. There is still absolutely no evidence of a spike in birth defects. Pala opens with horrific anecdotal stories about birth defects and sick babies, but never bothers to check with the Hawaii Department of Health or federal officials to confirm or deny his report.
According to the most recent data on the Hawaii Birth Defense Surveillance Report, the rate of birth defects in Hawaii has been trending down, although it is clear that study goes on.
Pala also makes no mention of the public statement issued by westside ob/gym Dr. Graham Chelius to quell the speculation:
There is not an increased rate of cardiac defects of any kind on the Westside of Kauai.
Pala suggests the Aloha Aina March in Waikiki Aug. 9 was an anti-GMO march, when it was clearly dominated by sovereignty and anti-TMT activists.
Pala claims Waimea supports its economy on tourism, when PMRF and the seed companies are the largest employers in the area. He says that perhaps 200 people work full time for the “chemical companies” on Kauai when the actual number is about 400, and 1,500 statewide.
He says the companies “spray 17 times more pesticide per acre (mostly herbicides, along with insecticides and fungicides) than on ordinary cornfields in the US mainland.” Actually, he got this from the Center for Food Safety — hardly an impartial source — and even then mischaracterizes the source’s assertion (it only refers to restricted use pesticides, not all pesticides). Pala also fails to mention that even CFS admits the use is less than three ounces per acre per year.
Pala uses the oft-discredited Gary Hooser claim that the seed companies applied 18 tons of restricted use pesticides in 2012, when Bill 2491 itself states the seed companies and Kauai Coffee together used 5,477.2 pounds, and 5,884.5 gallons of RUP for 2012. Disclosures under the Good Neighbor Program show they used 5.15 tons in 2014.
He also falsely claims that the pesticides used are “mostly atrazine, paraquat (both banned in Europe) and chlorpyrifos.” A purview of the Good Neighbor Data indicates otherwise; and in fact, it's Kauai Coffee that's using the paraquat.
Pala blames seed companies for people with respiratory symptoms who sought medical treatment in Waimea, but never mentions that the state Department of Health conducted an extensive study and issued a report that found the cause—and it wasn’t pesticides.
He also falsely claims that both cultivated and fallow lands are “sprayed frequently, sometimes every couple of days,” because the companies need “sterile land,” which is ridiculous. They want fertile land, which will give them healthy crops that produce healthy, viable seed. Much of their fallow land is in cover crops, subleased as pasture or just let go wild.
Pala repeatedly asserts that the companies don't disclose their pesticide use when they clearly do, with the data — type and quantity applied, active ingredient and parcel size — all reported monthly on the Good Neighbor website.
He also claimed they don't give any pre-notification, when in fact they offered every resident within 1,000 feet of their fields an opportunity for pre-spraying notification. Only a few residents requested such notification. All schools and hospitals within 1,000 feet of their fields are given pre-notification of pesticide applications.
Pala talks about “three years of failed attempts to force the companies…to create buffer zones,” without mentioning that the companies do so voluntarily. Under the Good Neighbor program, they agreed to provide at least 100-foot buffer zones, with Syngenta maintaining a 1,700-foot buffer zone between its fields and Waimea Canyon Middle School.
One of Pala's biggest whoppers was the contention that “the amounts and toxicities of pesticides were much lower” in the days of sugar plantations. Many of the chemicals used decades ago on the plantations have been banned because of their toxicity, like DDT, and some plantation sites are brownfields or Superfund sites today.
Pala quotes Gary Hooser as saying the companies don't pay excise taxes, when of course they pay them just like everyone else on every product they buy in Hawaii.
Pala also writes that “local schools have been evacuated twice due to pesticide use” when a state Department of Agriculture study found not one case of school evacuations in all of Hawaii has been caused by agricultural pesticide applications. The two evacuations on Kauai were due to a homeowners' misuse of pesticides.
Pala also badly bungled his reporting about the Joint Fact Finding Group and mischaracterized Dr. Lee's Evslin's work, prompting JFFG facilitator Peter Adler to issue this statement:
His piece will surely circulate widely on Kauai and elsewhere in the state where people are keenly interested in GM agricultural issues. Whatever the respective merits of the rest of his piece may be, however, the article had several unfortunate mistakes and some important omissions that need a response. This is being sent to The Guardian, The Garden Isle, and to other writers and journalists who are following the work of the JFF.
The Joint Fact Finding Study Group is not a “commission”. It is a special fact-finding group composed of Kauai citizens who have different sets of technical, medical and scientific expertise and who volunteered to do the very hard work of thoroughly examining as much available factual evidence as is possible during a year long project. Both the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture and the Office of the Mayor, County of Kauai, jointly fund the project.
More important, the article misconstrues and conflates statements made at a meeting with some Waimea residents on August 6th by Dr. Lee Evslin, one of the nine members of the Study Group, and myself. I stated that the job of the JFF group is to gather together the best available factual information about the seed company’s agricultural and pesticide footprints and any possible evidence of human or environmental health harms. In that context, I explained that we have not yet concluded our work, are not yet ready to issue findings or opinions, and are not conducting “original research”.
Mr. Pala then wrote: “Lee Evslin, plans to do just that. “I want see if any health trends stand out among people that might have been exposed to pesticides,” he says in an interview. “It won’t be a full epidemiological study, but it will probably be more complete than anything that’s been done before.”
As juxtaposed in Chris Pala's article, this muddied the definition of “original research” and made it appear as if Dr. Evslin is conducting research in opposition to the JFF group. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact (and this point was made clear to Mr. Pala by Dr. Evslin), the JFF group is very much on the same page and working together. All data collection efforts, examinations, and analyses are coordinated through the Study Group and a part of the broader mandate to look at critical pesticide use patterns and possible health and environment implications.
To clarify: the Study Group is a neutral forum and remains apolitical and committed to the discovery process that will lead to greater factual clarity in the sometimes difficult debates over pesticide use on Kauai. It should be obvious that part of our mandate is to look at health trends, including birth defects data, which we are doing.
Virtually no part of Pala's story is accurate. It is a one-sided hit piece, top to bottom, without even the hint of an attempt at balance.
I contacted his editor at The Guardian, Nicole Flatow, and pointed out just a few of Pala's errors. Her response:
I've gone over each of the points you raise with the writer and haven't identified inaccuracies that merit a correction. However, we are always grateful for feedback and will keep your perspective in mind moving forward. Quite an interesting issue.
Yes, it is an interesting issue. Sadly, The Guardian has done its readers a terrible disservice by presenting a deeply flawed report of it — and failing to retract the article, or even issue a correction, when its many errors were pointed out.
Just a little something to keep in mind next time you peruse The Guardian or see a piece by Christopher Pala.