Monday, October 31, 2016

Musings: The Right to Choose

The recent New York Times article claiming GMOs haven't delivered on the promise of reduced pesticide use and greater yields is notable both for what it asserts, and what it leaves out.

For starters, reporter Danny Hakim unequivacably states:

Fears about the harmful effects of eating G.M. foods have proved to be largely without scientific basis.

So will all the anti-GMO folks who are circulating the article as confirmation of their views also accept this as reality? Can we finally take food safety — the focal point of the anti-GMO messaging — out of this polarized debate?

Unfortunately, the article fails to explore the significant role that these same anti-GMO activists have played in preventing GM crops from reaching their full potential. It's a bit disengenous to claim the crops have underperfomed without also acknowledging that their development has met fierce resistance every step of the way, with many, especially those in the public sector, stymied completely.

Much of the work I've focused on has been the development of insect-resistant crops that are already showing the potential to reduce insecticide use and pull people out of poverty, such as the Bt brinjal in Bangladesh, Bt cotton in India and the Bt cowpea in West Africa. But the article skirts these contributions in focusing solely on commodity crop comparisons between Europe and the U.S.

The article also makes hash out of statistics. As University of Wyoming professor Andrew Kniss notes in his Control Freaks blog:

First, the data is presented in different units (thousand metric tons for France, compared to million pounds in the US), making a direct comparison nearly impossible. Second, the pesticide amounts are not standardized per unit area, which is critically important since the USA has over 9 times the amount of farmland that France does; it would be shocking if the U.S. didn’t use far more pesticide when expressed this way.

It is true that France has been reducing pesticide use, but France still uses more pesticides per arable hectare than we do in the USA. In the case of fungicide & insecticides, a LOT more. But a relatively tiny proportion of these differences are likely due to GMOs; pesticide use depends on climate, pest species, crop species, economics, availability, tillage practices, crop rotations, and countless other factors. And almost all of these factors differ between France and the U.S. So this comparison between France and the U.S., especially at such a coarse scale, is mostly meaningless, especially with respect to the GMO question.

If the increase in herbicide use in the U.S. is due to GMOs, what can explain the increase in herbicide use throughout most of Europe, where GMO varieties are not available?

I recently wrote an article about Dr. Kniss and the complexity and nuances involved in both analyzing farm chemical use and issuing value judgments about the findings. As he noted:

It's a really complex question and it can't be boiled down to a single answer when you ask, is herbicide use better or worse than it used to be? It's different. Some aspects are probably going to be better and some will probably be worse. In ag, nothing is black and white and that is particularly true with most pesticide use. Everything in agriculture is a trade-off.

Acute toxicity has decreased in all crops, whether they're GMO or not. If anything, if we had not had GMO crops the chronic toxicity would have increased even more. Glyphosate represents 70 percent of the herbicide used in these crops, but it barely registers as a [toxicity] impact.

The NYT reporter also treats all herbicide-tolerant crops as GMOs, when many have been developed through selective breeding or targeted mutagenesis, and are not GMOs at all.

What's more, he totally fails to address no-till, one of the main benefits of herbicide tolerance. According to a study by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and researchers from Aarhus University:

The study confirmed that that there are significant interactions between management factors, including pesticide application, with respect to effects on soil organisms. There are many sources of variation, and the disturbance of tillage alone may be greater than the effects of pesticides.

While tilling is praised as “more natural” than herbicides, it does cause cause erosion and impact beneficial soil organisms. This again underscores the complexity of these issues. 

Though people like to think in polarized terms of “good” and “bad,” the real world is all shades of gray. We only cheat ourselves when we fail to acknowledge that fact and persist in simplistic thinking.

But what really struck me about the NYT article were these quotes from French farmer Arnaud Rousseau, who is prohibited from using GM crops:

He wants access to the same technologies as his competitors across the Atlantic, and thinks G.M. crops could save time and money.

“Seen from Europe, when you speak with American farmers or Canadian farmers, we’ve got the feeling that it’s easier. Maybe it’s not right. I don’t know, but it’s our feeling.”

At the end of the day, it's all about ensuring that farmers — not activists — get to choose what to grow.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Musings: Hero to Zero

A commenter recently noted that he/she “already plunked for [Councilman Gary] Hooser as Joan suggested back in 2009.”

I don't recall ever suggesting people plunk for Gary, though it's true I've gone from supporter to detractor. Hooser's downward spiral is expressed so well by this Savoy Brown song:
I went from hero to zero, and I'm still sinking down. Money in the bank would lift me way off the ground. High, I'm so low ain't much fun, when your time is over and your day is done. Hero to zero. Oh, well the high life was my life, everything has to end. I was once at the top, but I died with my trend. Hero to zero. Oh, I can't go on.

At least he still has the "high three" of his "high five" to bank on, which guarantees him a hefty retirement payout at taxpayer expense. 

Speaking of the dying trend that turned Hooser from a political leader into a failed politician, Hawaii Center for Food Safety has released its latest propaganda:
Wow. Talk about revisionist history.  Center for Food Safety apparently has no clue just how intensive pre-contact agriculture was — far more than what is depicted in their little graphic. They also left out all the many stream diversions created by the Polynesians, as well as the incredible run-off during the plantation era and the aerial crop spraying of that time. 

As for the seed company footprint, it's nowhere near that big or intensive, and there are far more trees in Hawaii now than even 50 years ago.

Why is it so hard for the antis to tell the truth?
And what's up with this either-or bit, making like it has to be one or the other, and that seed companies are preventing food crops? That's simply not the reality of Hawaii agriculture.

I was at the Hawaii Farm Bureau Convention earlier this week, where I heard Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell say that Oahu alone has 23,000 acres of fallow ag land. Now that's the island with the biggest population, the best markets, the most solid ag infrastructure. Yet even it can't find enough farmers to work all its available land.

So once again, I issue the challenge to Hooser, Ashley Lukens and the rest of the “gotta do it our way” activists: Put your muscle and money where your mouths are. You want local food production? You want to replace everything brought in by the cargo containers and jets? 

Go do it. And be sure to use only an  o'o, as pictured in the graphic. Right. Shoots, even Dustin Barca was whining for a tractor.

Oh, and just FYI — best not let the livestock hang by the stream, much less run loose by the crops. And those mauka windmills are a death sentence for the endemic birds that were here long before any agriculture. 

But they won't actually go farm. Not when it's so much easier to bitch about people who actually are doing ag, and make up graphics that push an unattainable pie in the sky vision so they have an excuse to keep begging for donations and support. 

Most recently, we've got Nomi "Babes" Carmona begging for letters of recommendation so she can get a job “investigating supply chains in the food and agricultural industries." Though she deems it a “perfect fit," the rest of us are asking, WTF does she know about that ?
Of course, like the other "leaders" of the antis, Nomi functions on narcissism and delusions of grandeur. What else would prompt her to claim that local government workers and law enforcement officers want her to stay in Hawaii? Hahahaha!  Or to suggest that she's been doing "good work" here? Or to actually believe that she has a "skill set" that is useful to or needed in Hawaii? 

But at least we're getting a closer to the truth:
In other words, Nomi is no longer able to make money off the anti-GMO movement in Hawaii, so she's moving on, after wreaking havoc and leaving a mess for others to clean. Nothing new in that scenario.

Meanwhile, Walter Ritte also has hand out, asking folks to fund a one-hour documentary on his life: "Aloha Aina: The Awakening of Walter Ritte." Is this yet another indication that the anti-GMO gravy train is drying up? Because surely Hawaii SEED, which has been bankrolling Walter as its token Hawaiian for several years now, should have the resources to finance that project. They've gotten a pile of money in recent years, with precious little to show for it, save for Vandana Shiva's over-priced performances.

Of course, we're all still waiting for Walter to actually awaken and get it: He's been used as the kanaka frontman to advance a mainland-based movement that is the neocolonial version of malihini missionaries know best. Only this time, it's the ideology of utopian ag, rather than Christianity, that's driving it all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Musings: Call Out

Why, one might ask, would non-fishers who live in Kekaha and Kapaa begin advocating for a marine stewardship area off the Mahaulepu coast?

Well, when you consider that it's Gordon LaBedz, past president of Surfrider, a group staunchly opposed to the proposed dairy there, and Kalasara Setaysha, vice president of the whale advocacy group Kohola Leo, it's easy to connect the dots.
Though Gordon offers this rationale:

We picked the Maha'ulepu marine area because it is very windy and not used very much. Everything about this idea is non governmental. There is NO budget, no enforcement. It is a plan to bring the ocean user community together to see if there is agreement on limiting ourselves. If we can agree on little Maha'ulepu, maybe the idea might spread to other areas.

Southside kupuna Ted Kawahinehelelani Blake, who noted that none of those involved in the effort actually live in Koloa, isn't buying it:

Off the top, this looks like an anti-dairy initiative more than trying to preserve, protect and enhance the fisheries of Mahaʻulepu and Paʻa and the south shore.

This method of action is devious and upsetting. Coming thirteen ahupuaʻa away from his residence to cause pilikia in Koloa is a statement in itself. Reminds me of a line I heard by Val Kilmer in the movie Tequila Sunrise “I donʻt plant weeds in my yard so I can pull them.”

My attention was directed to four points that came to my mind after I read Mr LaBedz' meeting notice and his email thread:
  1. Is there a problem he is aware of here, that residents of Koloa know nothing about or is he just throwing his line out and hoping something bites the hoo?
  2. This is not place based but is driven by someone with poor and little knowledge of our area.
  3. Dumping his kukae in my yard then leaving, BAD MANNERS.
  4. Quote from his email, “We want the most passionate, opinionated fishermen we can find”. Why, cause empty cans make the most noise?

This type of irresponsible blow and go strategy has been going on too long.

Lyn McNutt then weighed in:

Ted pollution wise dairy is bad idea. Watershed already over acceptance levels and doesn't need more shit, so to speak. My parents lived in dairy country and leaks happened all the time. 

More concerned about fact that DLNR and others do not try to do anything about development and water diversions. Far far more pressing issue even for fisheries. Offshore getting stressed and fishers get blamed. Easy group to target but not main cause of declines. Voluntary rules are possible without NOAA inspired Makai Watch. What we gonna watch?  Sedimentation and pollution of reef from upstream pollution runoff from housing developments and lack of fresh water habitat due to water theft?

Though people like Lyn and Adam Asquith love to use inflammatory terms like “water theft” when talking about diversions, such as the recenty vandalized KIUC hydro diversion, the fact is that all the permitted stream diversions on Kauai are perfectly legal. What's odd is that Adam and his followers say nothing about the unpermitted diversions, like, say, the ones that Tom McCloskey created for landscaping purposes mauka of Kealia Kai.

Meanwhile, folks are continuing to take matters into their own hands. Just a few days ago, rocks were piled up to prevent water from flowing into an eastside irrigation ditch — one that is operating under a valid permit. Though no damage was done, farmers had their water flow temporarily disrupted.

As for attempts to stop the proposed dairy with claims it will pollute a “pristine” area at Mahaulepu — one that was cultivated in sugar for more than a century — Blake noted:

I trust the fact that 17 wastewater treatment plants, since the late 1980, with its 110 plus injection wells on the south shore, built from Lawaʻi Beach Resorts to the Hyatt Regency, specifically to handle sewage for all resort development, i.e., hotels, subdivisions,  condos, townhouses and vacation rentals (all marketed and bought by malihini) have added to the bacterial counts on the entire south shore from Mahaʻulepu to Lawaʻi Kai will be discussed in depth too.

I am not convinced, after touring the dairy site three times, armed with questions that were addressed and answered to my satisfaction, that the dairy would wreak havoc on the kahakai like many  assumptions already voiced. No tests has shown any evidence of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides (used by the sugar industry for over 100 years) in Mahaʻulepu Valley and throughout the entire ahupuaʻa of Paʻa and a majority of Weliweli too. As the soil is mostly clay in Mahaʻulepu Valley, one would expect to find evidence of the fertilizers and chem sprays in the ocean though that evidence never surfaced in the reports during the Dairy hysteria.

To prevent an Ag enterprise, on land classified as IAL [important ag lands] would be a “taking” and definitely require legislative action of at least 75% of the sitting legislature. Quite of a precedent for the Hawaiʻi Leg that is sure to be legally challenged by the Big 5.

The dairy, meanwhile, is continuing to slog through the EIS process that activists demanded — even though they rejected the draft EIS that found the dairy would have no impact. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Musings: Extremists

As the election nears, questions are being raised about why the Kauai Sierra Club has failed to endorse Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, long associated with environmental issues.

It seems the dissing is due to Club member Judy Dalton, a longtime cat lady who isn't pleased with JoAnn's leadership of the feral cat task force. Advocates of trap-spay-neuter and release are irked that the task force is drafting an ordinance that severely limits managed feral cat colonies.

Judy's feral cat advocacy is in direct opposition to the Sierra Club's stance, which correctly views the critters as the invasive species they are.

Meanwhile, even as Kauai Humane Society Director Penny Cistaro celebrated her retirement party last Friday, Basil Scott, leader of the Kauai Community Cat Project, is getting in a few last licks. He's now pushing a petition that calls for altering the county's contract with KHS:

We, the undersigned, call on the County of Kauai to change the wording of the current county contract with the Kauai Humane Society from ‘animal control’ of the population by ‘disposal and disposition’ to ‘animal- friendly, pro-life’ wording in order to stop the needless killing of animals.

Come on, Basil. I know you're a fanatic, but do you really, truly believe that anyone at KHS is engaged in “needless killing of animals?” It's such a nasty slap in the face to the folks who make the hard decisions every day while Basil rags on them from the totally unaccountable sidelines.

Because here's the reality, Basil, whether you and Judy want to accept it or not: There simply are not enough homes for all the animals on this island, and some of them are too wild or too aggressive to make suitable pets.

The county has never paid its fair share, and the KHS has been subsidizing the shelter for years. So unless you personally plan to take in all the unwanted animals, quit making humbug for people who are doing the best they can with extremly limited resources.

Maybe Basil should step up and run the shelter if he thinks it's so fricking easy. He could even bring in his good buddy Gary Hooser, who is going to need a new job come December.

And anyway, as Civil Beat reports, nearly 70 percent of those polled on Oahu favor eradication of feral cats, not maintaining managed colonies. I imagine the sentiment is similar, on the neighbor islands.

Meanwhile, attorneys are preparing for next week's Honolulu trial against KCCC Warden Neal Wagatsuma, who is accused of retaliating against a female staffer by firing her after she reported he was subjecting female inmates to psychological violence, sexual abuse and sexual humiliation in front of male prisoners, as well targeting inmate Alexandria Gregg, who was subjected to the degrading treatment.

According to court records in the complaint filed by plaintiff Carolyn C. Ritchie, a former social worker at the jail:

Plaintiff alleges that, in 2009 and 2010, she observed that: the work furlough program for the Life Time Stand ("LTS") housing section of KCCC was limited to men; Wagatsuma psychologically abused female inmates by video-recording "counseling sessions" of female inmates, in which he forced inmates to discuss private sexual matters and watch the screening of sexually violent rape films; and these video-recorded sessions were publicly displayed and shown to other inmates.

Plaintiff made repeated verbal and written reports to DPS Mental Health supervisor Mark Mitchell ("Mitchell"), specifically that: the grillings were cruel and unusual; the work furlough program was discriminatory; Wagatsuma violated inmate rights under [HIPA]; and DPS denied basic mental health services to female inmates.

Wagatsuma allegedly made the women stand in front of male prisoners, including convicted sexual offenders, and describe in excruciating detail all the incidents of childhood sexual abuse and rape they had experienced. The men were allowed to question the women. 

The warden also showed extremely graphic and violent pornography to inmates as part of his deviant homespun therapy model, and reportedly required the female detainees to hold up provocative, sexual photographs of themselves as he called them “whores.” He also questioned them about

Wagatsuma maintains Ritchie was filed for just cause after breaking rules.

In dismissing some counts within the orginal complaint, U.S. District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi wrote:

It is not clear to the Court, in particular, from the pleadings that making internal reports of psychological abuse of inmates is, in fact, part of Plaintiff's job duties. While the Court recognizes that the inmates' general psychological health was her responsibility, reporting abuse at the hands of her superior is likely not, and certainly not reporting it to outside agencies.

So whose job is it, exactly, to file a report when the warden is abusing inmates?

The state also reportedly investigated Ritchie's complaints and told Wagatsuma to stop his rogue “therapy.”

But isn't subjecting the women sexual abuse victims in his custody to degrading and humiliating treatment a fireable offense? Isn't practicing therapy without a license a fireable offense?

Why is the warden being allowed to remain a position where he can continue to victimize people?

No doubt Wagatsuma has, in the past, done worthwhile things at the jail. But he went way over the edge with this latest perverted gambit. It's time to move him out of a position where he has direct control over women, especially those who are incarcerated.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Musings: Water Diversion Vandalized

Shortly after two Kauai residents circulated inflammatory emails about a new water pipeline, a dam diverting water to two Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) hydro plants was vandalized.
Because the action targeted a utility — KIUC Chief Executive Officer David Bissel termed it “a deliberate sabotage of Kaua‘i’s electrical infrastructure” — local law enforcement officials are treating it as an act of domestic terrorism. They have called upon the FBI to investigate.

Given the extent of the vandalism, police suspect more than one person was involved. They apparently used a jackhammer or impact drill to chip a hole about 10 feet wide by 1 foot deep in the concrete, so that water flows through the dam, rather than over it and into a ditch. They also made multiple vertical cuts across the face of the dam.
In the process, concrete rubble and other debris was allowed to fall into the north fork of the Wailua River.
 Metal cables and rebar were also left exposed, creating a safety hazard.
“The entire diversion is compromised,” a utility official told me. “It could cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair, and the tab will be picked up by KIUC's members.”

A company that regularly monitors KIUC's hydro infrastructure reported the damage on Oct. 18, and believe it happened in the two weeks prior.

On Sept. 27, Adam Asquith, a taro farmer and Seagrant employee working with Waipa Foundation, sent state aquatic biologist Don Heacock an inflammatory email. It greatly mischaracterized the county Department of Water's plan to construct an 18-inch water main from Kapaia Reservoir to Grove Farm's surface water treatment plant (SWTP):
Heacock then sent the email on to others. Former mayoral candidate Dustin Barca posted the materials on Facebook, calling it a “a threat TO ALL OUR LIVES!!! This is WAR on our people! Everybody get ready to KU'E!!!!"

Dustin's post solicited a slew of comments, including threats and calls to action:
KKCR also got into the act, with Felicia Cowden hosting Asquith and Debbie Jackson, another misinformed water activist, on her show. At the 71-minute mark, Felicia takes a call from a man who says:

There's gonna be hundreds of people going to destroy all their water diversions and restore the natural flow. There are people on this island that are not going to let this diversion because of people and big business and everything and all the county council and all of that. They're not going to wait for that. If the river doesn't start flowing soon, people are gonna destroy the diversions. Local people who have culture that want to do their natural Hawaiian you know...

At this point, instead of denouncing the action, counseling against criminal property damage or cutting the guy off, Felicia interjects, “to correct the stream flow.” To which the guy replies, “Yeah, yeah." Felicia then ends the call with, “Thank you for that important piece. I appreciate that.”

As a bit of background, the water diverted from the North Fork flows into a ditch that supplies the two hydro plants. It's then returned to the South Fork of the Wailua River, some of which goes into the Kapaia Reservoir. The reservoir provides water to taro, flower, vegetable and fruit farmers, and cattle ranchers, as well as the SWTP.

Lihue Plantation created the diversion in 1926 to irrigate its sugar fields, and built the two hydro plants to generate electricity to run its mill. When it went out of business, the electric utility acquired the two hydro plants and maintenance of the ditches above them.

Though KIUC has a state permit that authorizes the diversion, it has been controversial because it can take 100 percent of the North Fork flow at times.

But observers said the vandalism was misguided for a number of reasons, besides its illegality. 

First, the diversion is allowed under a month-to-month revocable permit. Due to a recent court ruling, the state is now requiring all those permit holders to apply for a water lease, which includes conducting environmental and cultural studies.

Second, a Kauai resident who met with staff members from the state Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM) last week said the agency was already planning to direct KIUC to alter the diversion so it didn't take 100 percent of the stream flow. Due to court rulings and CWRM decisions, the agency was moving to limit diversions to no more than 50 percent of the median low flow.

Third, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources is currently in the process of setting instream flow standards for East Kauai streams. That's the first step in determining how much water can be diverted without causing environmental harm.

In short, the diversion issue was being sorted out through the state permitting process, which provides extensive public involvement.

Don and Adam were aware of this. So why did they feel the need to fan the flames to create the kind of hysteria that led misguided “aloha aina warriors” to take matters into their own hands? 

And when will the KKCR board start paying attention to the rhetoric of its programmers?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Musings: Another Day in Paradise

Out walking the beach behind Coconut Markeplace, in that time between night and dawn. All the hotel pools are lit up, though it's Newell's shearwater season, and the pre-dawn, post-dusk times are when they're the most vulnerable to light attraction. And why the hell do they need to illuminate their pools all night, anyway?

On the beach, tourists stand and sit, cameras in hand, waiting to record the birth of the sun, but in the meantime, they're watching the sleek black head of a monk seal, bobbing as it traverses the shoreline, in shallow water, looking to come ashore.

When it does, it's rushed by the tourists, intent on recording the event. It takes one look at the throng, turns around and flees toward the sea. You guys, I tell the tourists, it's trying to come ashore so it can rest, and now you've scared it off. It's actually illegal to approach the seals. 

They give me the 'fuck you' look and I trudge on, morning walk ruined now by the growling in my head, the seal well ahead of me, attempting once again to land, only to meet the same fate, and then I see it heading out to deeper waters.

The feral cats, meanwhile, are lining up near the oceanfront units, obviously accustomed to hand outs.

So where is the education, the enforcement? Where are the environmental groups?

Oh, they're busy trying to take down fishing and farming, which they have deemed some huge threat. Kauai Sierra Club's Judy Dalton is advocating for trap-neuter-release and feral cat colonies, though certainly she must know they prey on native birds, like the shoreline nesting wedgetails, and the taxoplasmosis in their doo-doo has killed monk seals.

Over on Oahu, Sierra Club director Marti Townsend is protesting against the hiring practices of the longline fishing fleet, taking a slightly different tack than the unceasing lawsuits filed by its lawfirm, Earthjustice, but all working toward a common goal: destroy the fishing industry. She's quoted as saying:

“It’s really about strict regulations and third party oversight. Everything that’s happening on these boats is legal. It’s just immoral.”

If the Hawaii Sierra Club is so worried about morality, why has it aligned with fear-mongerers and liars, like the Hawaii Center for Food Safety, Gary Hooser's HAPA (of which Marti's hubby, Ikaika, is a board member) and dishonest people like the University of Hawaii's Hector Valenzuela, who is using his job and public funds to rally against GMOs?

As the Genetic Literacy Project reports, Hector told PR Watch (in an article co-written by paid anti-GMO activist Paul Koberstein) this wild lie:

I am not an anti-GMO person, and I have never served as a spokesman for any anti-GMO group.

Yeah, it's just a coincidence that he shows up at all the anti-GMO rallies. Like, as the GLP points out, a protest organized by Occupy Monsanto, in which he addressed the crowd.vGLP continues:

Valenzuela also appears to be actively engaged with Babes Against Biotech, plastering their posters on his office door.

And even as Hector whines and moans about the ongoing harassment and intimidation supposedly directed at him — while never actually filing a formal grievance — it turns out Hector had compiled (using his UH email account) a 32-page dossier on Kevin Folta, the University of Florida horticulture chair and science educator. GLP reports:

Much of the information was cherry-picked from comments made by Folta on social media and blog posts going back several years. GMO Free USA appears to have used a lot of Valenzuela’s information to create memes encouraging its followers to harass Folta. Quite often notes appear to have been taken verbatim from Valenzuela’s dossier and posted to GMO Free USA without disclosure.

In the classic hypocrtical style of the antis, they even called on the University of Florida to fire Folta, using a made-up allegation and branding him a liar:
And call the university, they did. According to, “the university was so inundated with requests to fire Folta that it changed his office number and asked the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Task Force to remain on alert.”

The harassment did not stop at just complaints to his university. The blog Skeptical Raptor described how ruthless some of these people were. In one email that Folta received, the writer described the location of where the Professor’s wife liked to bike, terrorizing her enough to become afraid of staying home alone. They even went to Craigslist:

One of the most vile personal attacks was from some cowardly and anonymous Craigslist poster who invoked Dr. Folta’s deceased mother to attack Folta’s reputation. And used childish and ridiculous language like calling him a “Monsanto whore.”

Professor Folta wasn’t surprised to learn of Valenzuela’s involvement:

He can’t take on science in the spirit of acceptable scholarship, so he gets in line with vile activists to defame legitimate scientists. I heard him on the radio on Kauai. I could not believe I was hearing someone claiming to represent a Land Grant University and a science-based perspective. He was pushing claims we know are not supported by evidence.

Yet somehow Marti and the Sierra Club and Earthjustice and Hawaii Center for Food Safety have drawn a line that places themselves among the “vile activists” — with their lies, intimidation, fear-mongering and overheated rhetoric — on the side of morality, and the fishing fleet and conventional farmers among the immoral.

I still don't get it.

While we're talking about the self-proclaimed moralists and Messiahs:
Yeah. Everybody better Realize what's going on here!! 

But it ain't what Dustin thinks.

Ah. Just another day in paradise.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Musings: What It Is

One of the best things — perhaps the only good thing — to come out of the presidential campaign has been a renewed focus on how women are treated and viewed in America.

A Facebook friend recently asked why revelations about Donald Trump's sexual escapades have garnered more coverage and outrage than Hillary Clinton's foreign policy.

That's easy. Far more women can relate to the denigrating experience of dealing with a man's unwanted sexual advances than the political affairs of another nation. And then, of course, there's America's fascination with anything sexual.

I've seen many women use social media, opinion pieces, radio interviews and other venues to share their own stories of being groped, fondled, kissed, grabbed, and otherwise sexually assaulted by strangers and familiars. It's invariably an upsetting, degrading, frightening and humiliating experience.
And though it's centered around sexual actions — and in the case of Trump, minimized as run of the mill “locker room talk” — it's really not about sex at all. Nor is it about how “hot” a woman may or may not be.

It's about power and control — the same dynamics at play in domestic violence. When men make unwanted sexual advances toward a woman, and she is unable, for whatever reason, to denounce or stop it, the man gains power over her, and thus control. Which is why it's a tactic so often used in the workplace and other professional settings, as well as against young girls.

If the woman speaks up, she risks making a scene, drawing attention to herself, getting fired or demoted, or being scrutinized for her own supposed culpability. If she says nothing, the man knows he has secured the power and control he seeks, and he moves on to other victims.

It's only by talking about this behavior openly — identifying and condemning it for what it really is — that we can free women from this burden and help their reclaim their own power.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Musings: Get a Clue

I was reading a Washington Post article the other day about the effect of stress on pregnancy:

Studies have shown that when women experience stress, anxiety and depression, it affects them as well as the developing baby. According to the March of Dimes, prolonged exposure to high levels of stress can cause health problems, such as high blood pressure or heart disease, and may increase the chances of having a premature baby.

I couldn't help but wonder how the intense fear-mongering about chemicals and pesticides affected some of the women who were pregnant during the Bill 2491 process and its aftermath.

And then I wondered how any person in good conscience could continue to stoke those fears even though all the studies conducted to date — including those by the anti-GMO groups — have shown that pesticide drift from the seed fields is non-existent to negligible, and none of the claims about purported birth defects have been substantiated.

A comment posted yesterday perfectly expresses the wrong-thinking that is so prevalent around agriculture and food production, especially among well-fed westerners:

Best way to feed billions is to inspire billions to grow food- not to depend upon foreign corporations, many of whom profit immensely off of pesticides and herbicides and other kinds of poisons. Best way is to revitalize traditional and cultural methods of seed saving and agriculture that are proven to work well, and other methods not driven by profit. "Feed billions" is a propaganda term straight out of the mouths of these corporations, which value profit first over all else. If everyone in Hawaiʻi planted one breadfruit tree (1.4 million trees), then we would be well on our way to feeding ourselves.
First, it's apparent this person has no understanding at all of how “traditional and cultural methods of of seed saving and agriculture” are actually playing out in developing nations. As one example, consider sub-Saharan Africa, where drought regularly wipes out maize crops, leaving farmers with no food to eat, no seed to save and no crops to sell to pay for things like an education for their children.

In recent years, through the introduction of drought-tolerant hybrids, farmers have been able to grow enough to feed themselves and make a profit, which is helping them escape poverty. It's been possible through a public-private partnership that involves Monsanto, African NGOs and deep-pocket philanthropy by Gates, Warren Buffett and USAID. Africans control the seeds.

There isn't one nation on Earth where people aren't counting on others to grow at least some of their food for them. The idea that each person can become food self-sufficient is unrealistic, especially in Hawaii, with the bulk of the population lives in Honolulu. While breadfruit is great, much of what is currently grown goes to waste because many people have no taste for it. 

There's a reason why farmers comprise just 1 percent of the population in the U.S., and that's because the other 99 percent either don't want to farm, or live in cities where they're unable to produce their own food.

The same is true throughout the world, where young people are leaving rural communities for cities. They're leaving because they can't make sufficient profit from what are often tiny farms to support themselves and their families. They're leaving because climate change is affecting the arrival and intensity of the monsoons, provoking prolonged droughts, drying up streams, increasing the salinity of the soil. They're leaving because of war and civil unrest. They're leaving because they're seeking better opportunities.

They're also leaving because it's getting harder and harder to pursue “traditional” agriculture. Rural farmers aren't keeping so much livestock, so they have less manure for fertilizer. It's also difficult to find, and afford, laborers willing to weed and harvest manually.
Additionally, it's inaccurate to assume that “traditional and indigenous” methods of farming are inherently sustainable and environmentally friendly. Consider the work of World Food Prize Laureate Bram Govaerts, who helped frame the Mexican government’s major initiative known as the Sustainable Modernization of Traditional Agriculture:

His component is “Take It to the Farmer," which “focuses on integrating technological innovation into small-scale farming systems for maize and wheat crops, while minimizing detrimental impacts on the environment. Under this extension-style program, farmers on over 94,000 hectares switched to sustainable systems using MasAgro technologies, while farmers on another 600,000 hectares are receiving training and information to improve their techniques and practices.

Using cell phone technology and social media, YouTube videos and educational events, his work has led to impressive achievements in the adoption of his integrated technologies by farmers, policy changes at the governmental level, and institutional alignment for the implementation of conservation agriculture.”

His research and field application in conservation and sustainable agriculture has focused on the benefits of improving long-term soil quality in both irrigated and rain-fed regions through leaving surface residues on the land and reducing tillage activities while diversifying crops. Evidence gathered during his research has shown that when farmers used this method, crop yields increased on average in the rain fed areas by 30 to 40 percent and production costs fell by 10 percent in irrigated systems, resulting in a positive impact on household income.  

“Feed billions” is a term of compassion expressed by the countless scientists — both public and private sector — around the world who are sincerely working to improve food systems in many different ways. I've never heard anyone involved in biotech claim that it alone will feed billions. It is invariably presented as one plant-breeding tool in the toolbox.

The real irony is that anti-GMO lobbying has led to such a rigorous approval process for biotech that only the big corporations can afford to play. Activists are actually working to give big corporations more control over food development.

I do agree that it's important to inspire people to farm. But you're not going to inspire many to willingly assume a life of povery and drudgery by insisting they employ only “traditional and indigenous” agricultural methods.  As Dr. Govaerts noted:

“The best recognition of Dr. Borlaug’s legacy is to be conscious and shout out loud that farming is the future. It is our moral duty as researchers to bring pride back to the fields by harnessing the existing innovations of farmers and other value chain actors and fostering capacity and application of science and technology.”
It's fine if people want to hold erroneous, simplistic beliefs. The problems arise when they try to turn these misguided views into policies, and work to stifle technological advances in agriculture, and limit farmers' choices and prevent farmers and researchers from gaining access to innovation.

We're facing some serious challenges in the world, especially around agriculture. While I understand that many would love to turn back the clock to a time they imagined was more ideal, that's not going to happen, either through edict or choice.