Combine ax-grinding masquerading as science with poor reporting, and what do you get? A perfect storm of distorted information. Or to be more specific, today's article in The Garden Island about glyphosate (Roundup) in local honey.
It's a pattern we've seen play out repeatedly on Kauai, as activists use the crummy local newspaper to deliver a skewed message intended to generate paranoia while advancing an anti-ag cause.
|A frame full of honey.|
At issue is a science project conducted by Kapaa High School student Ritikaa Kumar. Though the article does not offer any actual data, it does include inflammatory rhetoric by beekeeper and anti-GMO activist Jimmy Trujillo and a questionable health effects reference from that stellar science source, Mother Earth News.
And though the reporter allows Trujillo to ramp up the fear factor over the purity of local honey, and wildly speculate about bee colony health, she fails to mention that 21 of the 38 samples contained no residue of glyphosate at all.
The reporter also never questioned the study's methodology; most notably, the process used to collect the honey. Some of the participating beekeepers were given bottles and told to collect honey themselves, and the article noted that Trujillo helped collect samples from some of the hives.
|Absolute Kauai honey.|
When I asked Carl Berg — identified by the article as Kumar's mentor — how they ensured integrity of the samples, he replied:
I trusted the integrity of the beekeeper and there was a signed chain of custody for samples once beekeeper turned them over. Some samples were collected in presence of student. Beekeepers don't want people messing with their bees.
Extremely hard to add glyphosate at those extremely low levels. Also hard to fake clean since you don't know what areas are clean.
It's not the fake clean that concerns me. It's the purposeful contamination by those, like Trujillo, who lack integrity and are keen to make the seed companies look bad. Because guess what? The highest levels were supposedly found on the westside, though you wouldn't know that from the reporter's claim that “the area around Kupua and Kapena” — two places that apparently do not even exist — “had the highest levels of glyphosate.”
But even if you accept the accuracy of the samples, we're still talking about extremely low levels of residue. The highest amount, found in just one sample, was 341.6 parts per billion. To put that in context, one drop of ink in one of the largest tanker trucks used to haul gasoline would represent 1 ppb.
So WTF is the problem? Well, now we need to add a bit of backstory.
Berg and Don Heacock, who is convinced his own health problems resulted from pesticide exposure, first proposed the idea of sampling honey for glyphosate last year, at a meeting of the Kauai Beekeepers (KBEE). Dr. Danielle Downey, who was then the state apiarist, advised against it, saying it was not a good method of assessing bee or hive health.
Pollen and wax samples provide a much better indicator of pesticide contamination, and a county-funded survey of those hive products was under way when Downey took a job on the mainland. She had previously told me that Hawaii has some of the cleanest pollen in the nation.
Downey also noted the risks of a honey study. Because there is no authorized level of any contaminant in honey, if any amount of any chemical is found, the honey must be condemned. And that has serious implications for Kauai beekeepers, many of whom depend on honey sales to offset the cost and time of maintaining their hives.
The TGI quotes Trujillo as saying:
It’s concerning because pesticides shouldn’t be in honey, and now beekeepers have to question whether or not their honey is safe to sell.
As president of KBEE, Jimmy should know it's not a question of whether the honey is “safe” to sell. Honey may not be sold period if it contains any contaminants, regardless of the level.
But since the identity of beekeepers who participated in the study will remain a secret, the public will be left wondering whether the local honey they buy is safe. Though Berg suggested those who tested clean could use a “glyphosate free” sticker, that casts a taint on people who did not participate in the study, and can't afford to do their own testing, and thus don't know whether their honey truly is “glyphosate free” or not.
TGI reports Trujillo, who has no science training, as saying:
The new finding may explain why some bee colonies are dying, Trujillo added.
What bee colonies are dying? Kauai doesn't have the colony collapse disorder. It does have the small hive beetle, which has caused many beekeepers to lose hives, including Jimmy, who also loses hives because he's over-extended and doesn't manage them well.
But it doesn't matter than Trujillo is engaged in groundless speculation about a non-existent problem. Soon we will hear people claiming that Roundup is killing all the bees and poisoning all the honey on Kauai.
Just what we need: more fear about agriculture based on purposeful misinformation.
And though it's impossible to determine exactly where the bees may have picked up the glyphosate — their typical foraging territory extends two miles from the hive, though they've been observed foraging at two and even three times this distance — Kumar is working up a statistical correlation of glyphosate concentration and land use type.
But no, this isn't agenda-driven science, even though the results were given to the Joint Fact Finding Group and Kumar is reported as saying, "I’m big into the GMO movement, and everyone is passionate about it." (Berg says that was a misquote, for which a retraction is being demanded.)
Despite the buzz about dirty honey that this TGI hatchet job will create, the real story, as an astute friend observed, is that only two students from Kapaa High School entered the science fair. The rest is just TGI BS.