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.