Friday, March 31, 2017

Musings: Hashtag #Harumph

As the Hawaii anti-GMO movement loses ground, its leaders are becoming increasingly apoplectic and divisive, as evidenced first by Gary Hooser's hashtag bloat:
Uh, Rep. Lowen, just a small FYI — you may want to think twice about strategizing with a failed politician. Because I don't think he really knows too much about winning.
Maui's Autumn Rae Ness was also sputtering:
Gee, Autumn, we've all seen your tired playbook. I recall it being trotted out by Dubya, in the days following 9-11: You're either with us or against us. AKA: We're right, you're wrong, and there ain't no in-between.

Oh, yes. Intolerance and smug superiority are such effective ways to win converts, gain consensus and move forward.

Autumn is equally huhu about the sponsorship of tomorrow's Maui County Ag Festival, not that she and her pals contributed any money or manpower to change things:
It was so amusing to see Big Island Sen. Russell Ruderman weighing in with a big "like, "considering how much he and his organic grocery stores profit off imported food.
Yeah, that's real class, Napua. Talk shit about an event, then hijack it with own rhetoric. That's the spirit of hula, right?

Napua is an example of how the antis don't win elections on Maui, seeing as how she lost to Yuki Lei Sugimura. Autumn, on the other hand, has been working for Councilwoman Elle Cochran, who was outed by The Politic as ignorant, and easily frightened and misled:

While its claims are scientifically dubious, the SHAKA Movement’s rhetoric had plenty of shock-value. Its website links to articles that warn readers about dramatic new scientific studies and claim to provide evidence of epidemic-like health risks posed by GMOs. While these articles do not convey legitimate scientific findings, they were effective in creating opposition to Monsanto, even among Maui’s leaders. In an interview with the Politic, Maui County Councilwoman Elle Cochran said, “these companies like Monsanto are putting out poison.”

Ah, yes. Just the kind of thoughtful, well-informed, sane leaders you want.

It all brings to mind an article I read the other day about why Americans can't agree on anything:

This isn't just human nature, but the result of a narcissism that took root in American society after the 1960s and has been growing ever since. Surrounded by affluence, enabled by the internet, and empowered by an educational system that prizes self-esteem over achievement, Americans have become more opinionated even as they have become less informed, and are now utterly intolerant of ever being told they’re wrong about almost anything.

Speaking of which:
How's about draw the line at the low-water mark, and they can stand on the makai side. Or better yet, those who actually farm on one side, and those who just complain and rhapsodize about farming on the other. And see who feeds you first.

A farmer friend who weathered the anti-GMO battles on Kauai predicted the shit storm would blow over on Maui, too, even though Center for Food Safety is galvanizing its forces there. The scare tactics start to lose their shock value when they're reiterated too many times, with nothing substantial to actually support them, he said. And people get turned off by the extremist, no-holds-barred behavior that characterizes so many on the anti side. 

That's what happened on Kauai. Just ask Hooser.

So those who are drawing lines and demanding that folks pick sides may want to back up a mile or two. 'Cause bumbye, they may just end up as the odd man out.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Musings: West by Northwest

I've been in Seattle, land of construction cranes, low gray skies, $2 million dollar homes with yard signs outlining the occupants' philosophical beliefs and coffee shops. 
In one neighborhood, I saw three coffee shops all in a row, each with its own personality, and each one bustling in the late afternoon. Even McDonald's was advertising $2 lattes and mochas.

But Seattlites need their coffee to stay awake and alert in their somnambulent, soggy climate. Fortunately, the newest dietary guidelines indicate that “habitual caffeine intake up to 400 mg per day is safe for adults,” and most people are staying within those limits. What's more, caffeine also appears to offer health benefits. Its consumption is associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
The city is also filled with restaurants featuring farm-to-fork fare. And why not? The ag-friendly corridor that stretches from Vancouver south into Oregon produces a plethora of fresh food that easily finds its way into local eateries and markets. Locally-produced, relatively inexpensive food — veggies, fruit, livestock, cheese — is such a familiar facet of life in the Northwest that folks here tend to believe everyone everywhere can — indeed, should — eat that way.

But then you have to deliver a wake up call: Uh, have you ever been to Detroit? In the winter?

Their easy acceptance of agriculture contrasts with the constant push-pull in Hawaii, where many folks claim to want local food — so long as it's not produced within sight, sound or smell of their world. That stance was perfectly personified by Dr. Monroe Richman's ill-informed, paranoic rant against the proposed Mahaulepu dairy. What's that old saying? Better to be thought a fool than to write a letter to the editor that confirms it.

Richman isn't the only one raving. It's been amusing to see the many conspiracy theories advanced against the dairy, most recently by the Hawaii Free Press, which reinterprets the press release from Hawaii Dairy Farms:

Today the Fifth Circuit Court ruled that Hawaii Dairy Farms is now required to do an Environmental Impact Statement, which revokes all of our permits and approvals to date. While this news is disappointing for Hawaii Dairy Farms, we believe it could be devastating for animal agriculture in Hawaii.

(Translation: Our boss, luxury resort developer Pierre Omidyar, has achieved his hidden goal. By voluntarily filing an EIS for our dairy farm on Kauai, Omidyar has now brought about a court ruling for the first time ever mandating EIS for farmers statewide. Next year, the Legislature will be expected to act. And the best part—Omidyar looks like the victim here when he is actually the perpetrator.

Omidyar's minions sound soooo sincere. They really have no idea what their boss is up to.)

I think the dairy's floundering and missteps are more likely due to plain old ineptitude by its parent organization, Ulupono Initiative, than any grand plan to surreptiously derail agriculture. Bankrolled by Omidyar's Ebay fortune, it represents yet another of his vanity dalliances aimed at shaping the sociopolitical climate of Hawaii. But like Civil Beat, the dream so often fails in the execution.

Shoots, Ulupono actually believes its goal for “more sustainable local food” can be realized by blowing $351,663 on do-nothing groups like Malama Kauai, the failed Utopian dream of another (though far less flush) tech entreprenuer, Chris Jaeb.

Even though it's funnelled a pile of dough into so-called “sustainable” ag projects, Ulupono hasn't been able to appease the antis. Heck, the anti-ag folks on Maui correction, Big Island, even brought over Kauai's Friends of Mahaulepu to help them oppose an Ulupono-funded dairy there by protesting at a town hall meeting last night.

Ulupono has apparently failed to realize that conflict activism is a business model for some of these groups, so they ain't never gonna be happy.

Which is why I barely raised an eyebrow when I saw this post from Ashley Lukens at Hawaii Center for Food Safety:
Gosh, Ashley, aren't you and your acolytes, and the other antis from HAPA and Hawaii SEED and and Earthjustice, going to supply our fish and food? I mean, you keep telling everybody how they can't do this or that, while demanding more local food. So when are you actually going to put your elbow grease where your mouth is?

Oh, that's right. I forgot. You don't actually produce anything other than pilikia and propaganda.

It had been probably 30 years since I was last in Seattle, and though it's grown tremendously in that time, it still appeals. I can understand why Hawaii folks like Seattle. It's got the same close connection with the water, and the damp grayness creates a softness similar to the Islands. Until the wind gusts, and then it's brrrr..... 
I could only smile when a group of Seattlites, walking between tall buildings, saw the clouds part, revealing a patch of sunlight. Out came the sunglasses. “Let's go stand in it,” one woman said eagerly.

Their eyes light up at the mention of Hawaii — the place that so many of them choose to visit when the winter gloom gets to them.

So I don't think they, or the other 8 million tourists who visit Hawaii every year, will be dissuaded by The Juice Media's hackneyed anti-tourism video —made, ironically, by an Aussie tourist who was “enlightened” during his visit to the Islands:

Aloha! I had the magical opportunity to visit Hawai'i at the start of the month and talk with local and native Hawaiians. They all said the biggest problem they face is the fact that so few people are aware of the history of ongoing US military occupation. So on my return to Australia, I decided to make a video about it.‬

Really? A lack of awareness about the overthrow and militarism in Hawaii is the biggest problem Hawaiians face?

I hate to break the news, but after spending a lot of time on the mainland in recent years, the hard cold fact is this: they don't give a shit about the reality of Hawaii. They just wanna get warm and have fun in the "magical" paradise that has been so successfully packaged and sold in the global marketplace.

As this gawd awful piece in the NYT makes clear.

And they're gonna keep on coming, until too many have bad experiences, or climate change kills the trades and Hawaii starts to swelter like Guam.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Musings: Funny, yeah?

Opponents of Hawaii Dairy Farm have succeeded not only in setting back that project, but dealing a serious blow to future livestock projects in the Islands.

In response to a motion for summary judgement filed by Kawailoa (Grand Hyatt) attorneys, a circuit court judge ruled yesterday that the dairy's effluent ponds qualify as wastewater treatment plants under HRS 343, and thus require the completion of an EIS before any permits can be issued.

So now the dairy is back to square one. And though this pilot project, bankrolled by billionaire Pierre Omidyar's Ulupono Initiative, can afford to finish the EIS it already started — when it still thought the process was voluntary — it sets a chilling precedent for future animal agriculture.

But HDF plans to appeal the ruling, according to a statement from spokeswoman Amy Hennessey, “because this dangerous precedent cannot stand if Hawaii hopes to spur new agricultural projects to meet its goal of providing more local food for our island community.”

Come on, Amy. Doncha know people are just saying they want more local food? But when it comes right down to it, not in their back yard. They'll take the stuff brought in by Costco, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, as Hawaii News Now reported recently:

The Department of Health says high levels of a harmful bacteria called Clostridium Perfringens -- an indicator of human and animal wastes -- were found during recent water testing in Waikomo Stream on Kauai's South Shore. The department says there are 1,600 cesspools and 120 injection wells in the Poipu area, and some of them are overflowing and polluting the stream.

But no, human beings and tourism aren't causing any pollution problems on the southside. Just agriculture. Funny how Surfrider and Bridget Hammerquist of Friends of Mahauelpu had nothing to say about this particular stream pollution, since it doesn't grind their anti-dairy ax.
Speaking of which, Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff is now calling for Hawaii's congressional delegation to initiate an investigation into Wespac's “senior leadership,” claiming it's “unlawfully lobbying the Trump Administration” and taking advantage of an "anti-environmental president."

As Achitoff fumed on Hawaii News Now:

“That's not Wespac's job. It's not their authority. Frankly, it's just not legal. They're not here to advise the President or anybody else on what the provisions of the monument should be."

Yes, only Earthjustice and Sierra Club have that right.

Funny, how Achitoff has no problem with illegal lobbying conducted by his friends in the anti-GMO movement. Nor did he say a peep about the questionable funding and lobbying activities that led to the recent expansion of the monument.

And though I'm not a well-paid attorney, like Achitoff, I'm pretty sure that Wespac, as the fishing council for the West Pacific, has every right to make recommendations to NOAA and National Marine Fisheries Services.

Meanwhile, Oregon is setting a good example for strict enforcement of pesticide rules. As Capital Press reported:

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission issued its first recall of recreational marijuana after testing of a brand sold at a Mapleton, Ore., store showed it contained a level of pesticide residue that exceeds the state limit.

The OLCC , which oversees retail sales of recreational cannabis, said samples of Blue Magoo marijuana failed a test for pyrethin levels. Pyrethins are a mixture of six chemicals that are toxic to insects, according to the National Pesticide Information Center based at Oregon State University. Pyrethins are found in some chrysanthemum flowers, and in some cases can be used on organic products.

OMG! There's an organic pesticide? And it's “toxic?” You know what they say, if it kills insects, what will it do to us? And they're drenching pot with this stuff? Is nothing sacred?

The article continues:

The mistake might qualify as a violation under Oregon administrative rules, Pettinger said. Failure to keep proper records is a Class III violation; the first offense is punishable by up to 10 days of business closure and a $1,650 fine. Four violations within a two-year period can lead to license revocation.

Shoots, if this had happened in Hawaii, they'd be calling the EPA and demanding a civil rights investigation into this blatant violation of human rights by the dirty pesticide pushers.

Where's Earthjustic when you need 'em?  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Musings: So Often the Case

As is so often the case with Civil Beat, an article there irked — both its content and delivery.

And is so often the case, it was written by Anita Hofschneider, who, as is so often the case, inserts her own views into what is supposed to be a news story:

The issue of pesticides is highly debated at the Legislature, where most legislators have aligned themselves with the agricultural lobby rather than environmental advocates.

Uh, no, Anita. As is so often the case, you've got it wrong. First, the pesticide debate we've seen playing out at the Lege is not a pro- vs anti-environmental issue, nor is it farming vs environmentalism.

It is a thin facade for an anti-GMO movement that is using pesticides in a disingenuous, self-serving, manipulative attempt to, as Gary Hooser has clearly stated, drive the seed companies out of Hawaii vs mostly small, conventional farmers and average folks who are pissed off by the tactics of the antis.

And the legislators who have refused to play along did so because the last bill — HB 790 — was poorly written, not because they're aligning themselves with the "agricultural lobby."

Furthermore, please quit making like farmers are an “agricultural lobby” — read corporate, craven, big business — while the antis are “environmental advocates” — read humble, earnest, dedicated to the public good.

Come on. Ashley Lukens is a registered lobbyist for the Hawaii Center for Food Safety. She and others, as I've pointed in parts 1 and 2 of the follow-money posts, are pulling in serious money — and getting paid — to push their agenda. Which is fine. But let's not pretend they're doing this out of the goodness of their hearts and the best interest of the people.

Furthermore, these activists do not get grab the title of environmentalist, and neither they nor Anita get to define who qualifies for that role.

With that, let me focus on the content of the article: Big Island Rep. Richard Creagan's amendment to a pesticide bill that the seed industry, farm bureau and others previously supported. The original bill would have allowed the Department of Ag to use money from the pesticide fund to conduct some of the studies proposed by the Joint Fact Finding Group.

But Creagan amended it to mandate reporting of all pesticide use — general, restricted and experimental — within 60 days of the end of the calendar year. It would apply to any ag entity that bought or used 10 pounds or 10 gallons of RUPs. 

A hearing is set for Wednesday morning.  Needless to say, it's silly, since the companies have already agreed to voluntarily disclose this info on a monthly basis. So what good is this language?

Creagan also added a section that calls for an undisclosed amount of money to go to the UH medical school “to develop a study that will determine the exposure of chlorpyrifos to one hundred pregnant mothers on Hawaii island, Oahu, and Kauai by examining the meconium of newborn babies.”

Why does the state want to get into testing women for exposure to a pesticide that the EPA is currently considering banning, which could render the whole issue moot?

And if exposure is determined, then what?

Exactly what is the purpose of this, other than to further underscore Creagan's complete capitulation to the antis and cater to Lukens, who proclaimed:

If lawmakers are not toeing the corporate line then this kind of language should be something that they get behind,” she said.

Oh, yes, Ashley, it's so black and white. That may be a great "with us or against us" sound byte for the media, but the real world, and even the strange world of politics, are far more nuanced and based on compromise.

Ashley may be desperate to appease critics like Dustin Barca and his followers, who rightly question why she has been unable to secure one “victory,” despite blowing millions over the past three years. But as she should have learned from her last defeat at the Capitol, it's never akamai to back legislators into a corner.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Following the Anti-GMO Money, Part 2

Some Hawaii anti-GMO activists are now starting to question the money trail that has delivered so much to the Center for Food Safety — and so little to them — while accomplishing essentially, well, nothing — except for a lot of huhu and humbug.

From the Facebook posts of defeated mayoral candidate and anti-GMO activist Dustin Barca:
But then, political neophytes like Barca think all you have to do is march and presto, the world is changed. He doesn't realize that endless struggle, with no progress toward goals, is the essence of the Rescue Game and its one main rule: the game must go on forever.

As articulated by one of its leaders, Gary Hooser, following a screening of yet another anti-GMO documentary last week: 

“This inspired me to keep the vision alive and the commitment going until these chemical companies leave our state.”

Which was followed by his stating an equally unrealistic goal, seeing as how so few of these activists have any understanding of agriculture: 

“Let's become the model of self-sufficiency, of regeneration, of sustainability, of democracy.”

All while practicing an anti-democratic model of deception, distortion and zero transparency, as expressed so well by Maui anti-GMO activist Tiare Lawrence who apparently doesn't realize Hawaii CFS Director Ashley Lukens is a lobbyist:
Yes, they should be transparent, but not us. 

Oh, and not to mention, silencing and censoring anyone who dares to disagree — again, from Barca's Facebook postings:
Gee, Dustin, now you know how I feel.

Which all segues into this next installment. After I published part one, I got this email from a reader:

Great article yet again.  But it begs the question (to me) as to WHY do these foundations fund this destructive crap?  I mean, what do they get out of it?

I get Gary Hooser doing it – he’s cynically trying to create relevance for himself.  I get Neal Norman doing it – he wants to develop the West Side and pocket more money.  I get the north shore hippie faction doing it – they’re shallow and easily manipulated and desperate to be able to affect something in a world where they are largely irrelevant.  

But why these foundations?  Is it some offshoot of my shallow hippie rationale in which “corporate” = “bad” – hippies with bucks?

Have you ever tried to contact someone like Mr. Patel (below) and sincerely ask him Why on Earth would you do this?

By which was meant Ricken Patel, one of the co-founders of Avaaz, which in 2015 was CFS' top donor, giving the group $1.3 million. That's nearly double the amount awarded by the second largest donor, Ceres Trust, though Ceres' money comes manufacturing heiress Judith Kern, who appears also to be funneling dough through the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Combined, those two sources gave CFS $1.275 million.

No, I have not asked Patel why he thought it was a good idea to give CFS $1.3 million to set up an “eBay-style” global seed exchange network. But perhaps he thought there might be something in it for his organization, which is all about capturing email addresses as a way to: 

“Close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. By signing up to receive Avaaz emails, members are rapidly alerted to urgent global issues and opportunities to achieve change.”

It's still unclear whether the CFS seed exchange venture is credible or gaining traction. CFS initially indicated that Vandava Shiva was on board with this initiative, then withdrew her name when she protested that she had not endorsed the project. (Though $100,000 of the Ceres Trust money was supposed to be passed along to Shiva’s Navdanya group for an “interconnected movement to save our seeds.”)

CFS helped Shiva establish her own USA funding apparatus via an NGO called “Friends of Navdanya” some years ago. Perhaps Avaaz and CFS thought that a global network of seed savers would add numbers to the Avaaz email roster, purportedly 45 million at present, and build the CFS support base, too. 
Actually, Dustin, they spent more than that.
Judith Kern may be more ideologically motivated. Her husband and co-trustee, Kent Whealy, was a key player in the nonprofit Seed Savers Exchange until he was booted from the organization for criticizing its decision to send some seeds to the doomsday vault at Svalbard, Norway. Now Judith is funding similar activities at CFS, giving $500,000 for the broad initiative "Creating a New Food Future—Protecting Our Farms, Our Food and Our Environment." 

Additionally, the Ceres Trust made seven grants to the Pesticide Action Network totaling $760,000 in 2015. This was coupled with a $45,000 grant to CFS for an “Annual Hawaii Strategy Meeting,” a $120,000 grant to Hawaii Seed to “end pesticide exposure and GMO field tests in Hawaii, plus $90,000 to Hooser's HAPA group. I'm sure it was just a coincidence that all this money was flowing into Hawaii the same year that Peter Adler began conducting the joint fact funding study on "big ag" pesticides. 

This is the sort of grant-making that eludes press attention when Hawaii News Now makes a feckless comparison of anti-GMO and seed company expenditures. 

Hawaii SEED, which is headed up by Jeri DiPietro and Walter Ritte, reported income of $229,870 for 2014, up from $168,957 in 2013. Like CFS, neither has filed a report for 2015. But both are finding the Rescue Game to be good for business.

As has Hooser's HAPA (Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action). It reported income of $365,747 for 2015 — up from $121,432 in 2014 — though aside from Ceres, it's unclear who else is funding HAPA.

Ceres gave HAPA $50,000 for general operating support in 2015 and and another $40,000 to host “Challenging global impacts of the agrochemical industry: An International Food Justice Summit.” But though that summit brought in grants of $105,000, just $45,439 was actually spent on the event. Some $19,759 went to run the Kuleana Academy, HAPA's training ground for so-called progressive candidates. But the biggest chunk, $89,139, was expended in this nebulous manner:

Another $10,703 was spent on "meals and hospitality." 

And a whopping $65,384 went to travel.  

Where are these people going? Especially when you consider that Hawaii SEED spent $48,230 on travel in 2014. Are they flying people in to testify at meetings? Footing the bill for the supposedly independent journalists and filmmakers producing all this anti-GMO propaganda? 

It's very hard to tell, given the lack of details in the reporting.

Perhaps Barca and his friends should be asking Jeri and Hooser where their dough went, too.

Because they're all spending large, with no results. And apparently none of that kala — or not enough — is trickling down to Barca.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Musings: Sweet

It's so sweet to see Hawaii in the news for something other than “vacation in paradise,” “buy a piece of paradise” or “they're poisoning paradise.” Kudos to state Attorney General Doug Chin for successfully challenging Trump's latest executive order travel ban. When your intent is to discriminate, it's pretty hard to disguise it.

Here's some more good news. Kauai's bees are buzzing along just fine, thank you. Yup, even though a recent pollen study detected miniscule levels of pesticides, the island's honey bees are robust, in strapping good health.
Capturing a swarm.
In fact, “Kauai has some of the healthiest bees in the world — or at least, the country,” said Scott Enright, director of the state Department of Agriculture.

So concluded Danielle Downey, the former state apiary specialist who conducted the study in 2015. It was financed by a $12,000 Kauai County grant, which was issued after people freaked out during Bill 2491, claiming that the westside seed companies were killing and poisoning bees.

“This study showed this was not the case,” Enright told the Kauai County Council yesterday.

“During the infamous Bill 2491, many claims were made by proponents of the bill,” Councilman Ross Kagawa said. “And they had some very serious accusations that people were dying, babies were being born deformed, cancer was on the rise, and of course, that bees were dying at a rapid rate. So based on your study, are those claims true or false, regarding the bees?”

“False, Enright relied.

And yet another bogus claim bites the dust. Indeed, not one of those accusations was found to be true.

Downey took 200 samples from 23 sites, from Kekaha to Haena, and they were tested for 212 different chemistries. One sample, taken at Kekaha, detected chlorpyrifos (Lorsban) at 12.5 part per billion, which Downey declared “an insignificant number.”

“It was the only hit for an ag RUP (restricted use pesticide) in everything,” Enright said.

On the other hand, fipronil — a product used in ant, flea, roach and termite control — was found in every sample. And then there were “chemistries [fungicides] used in green houses, mostly on the North Shore, that showed up in concentrations in hives on the North Shore,” Enright added.

Uh, what have we been saying all along? “Big ag” ain't the problem, folks! It's us! It's you!

As Enright reminded us, Kauai had the highest honey production in the world during sugar's heyday.
Absolute Kauai honey.
Never one to pass an opportunity to self-promote, Carl Berg told the council about a study he did to determine whether there was any glyphosate (Roundup) in Kauai honey. It was funded by Surfrider, conducted with dubious protocol — beekeepers could send in their own honey samples, opening the possibility for contamination, as opposed to Danielle, who collected pollen herself — and he's still writing up the results, supposedly for publication in a scientific journal. We shall see... And it was a bit disengenous to claim he “collaborated with Dr. Downey,” when in fact she discouraged the honey testing.

At any rate, Berg supposedly found glyphosate in 37 percent of the samples he tested — again, in extremely small amounts, but there is no allowable pesticide level in honey. Though it's hard to imagine that any honey doesn't have at least some residue, since pesticides are found in pollen all around the world, and thus ostensibly would be found in the honey. So you might think twice about paying more for "organic" honey.

The pollen study “didn't test for glyphosate because bees don't react to it,” Enright said. “In talking about bee health, they have no reaction. I didn't know about that until I had a conversation with Danielle.”

One would expect a joyous reaction from beekeepers to the news that Kauai bees are in great shape. Except when it doesn't fit their agenda, as is the case with beekeeper and anti-GMO activist Jimmy Trujillo.

Looking grim as he addressed the Council, Trujillo said: “What can we do to protect our bees and the livelihood of our beekeepers? We are prepared to find out.”

As a beekeeper, Trujillo should know it starts with good hive hygiene. As in quit neglecting your bees. And let's not forget he was the one who transported a box with the small hive beetle from the Kauai Community College apiary to Kapahi, thus facilitating the eastside spread of that destructive pest.

But shhh. Let's just keep blaming ag, instead of taking any responsibility ourselves.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Musings: Following the Anti-GMO Money, Part 1

Funding for the Hawaii anti-GMO movement continues to grow, with nearly all of it coming from wealthy mainland philanthropists, according to the latest tax returns.

Indeed, grantmaking foundations supply virtually all the operating money that fuels the national and local anti-biotech movement, even though its leaders love to claim they're leading a grassroots, citizens' initiative.

Still, many details about funding sources and expenditures remain murky, even as these groups demand transparency from others.

Meanwhile, even as these groups actively work to influence the current Hawaii legislative session, we are only now seeing their financials from 2014, leaving the public and policy-makers in the dark about their full role in Island politics.

Let's start with the Center for Food Safety (CFS). This Washington, D.C.-based group serves as a funding source for smaller groups, like Babes Against Biotech and Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, and has a satellite office with fulltime staff in Hawaii.
Hawaii CFS presents a distorted view of Island ag.
In 2014, CFS took in $5.231 million — nearly $1.3 million more than 2013. With these resources, CFS was able to:
    • Increase its total number of employees from 40 to 52
    • Establish and staff a Hawaii field office with an operating budget of $738,569
    • Help win a Maui County (Hawaii) referendum election calling for a GM crop moratorium
    • Distribute $238,500 overseas to anti-biotech organizations in Southeast Asia and Africa
    • Wage a GMO labeling ballot proposition campaign in Washington State
    • Campaign to block passage of the so-called “Dark Act” in Congress
    • Expend $313,035 in lobbying expenditures, almost all of it to influence legislation.
Research conducted by Rory Flynn, who contributed heavily to this post, shows that foundations provided over 90 percent of all “grants and contributions” received annually by CFS for the period 2002-2011. That remained true in 2014, with some 39 foundations identified as contributors that year. Furthermore, the tally of foundation grants received by CFS — and other anti-biotech NGOs — is growing year by year. CFS received more than $16 million during 2010-2014, compared to $7.3 million during 2005-2009, which represents quite a growth spurt.

Yes, anti-activism is a booming business — though classified as a "charitable" activity by the IRS, and thus subsidized by taxpayers — with the flow of philanthropic dollars essentially untouched by the recent recession.

So which foundations gave CFS $2,881 million in 2014?

Ceres Trust — $630,789 Ceres Foundation — $500,000 Schmidt Family Foundation — $250,000 William Zimmerman Foundation — $160,000 Schwab Charitable Fund (per 2013 990 ending 6/30/2014) — $135,250 David B. Gold Foundation — $125,000 Cornerstone Campaign — $115,000 TomKat Charitable Trust —$100,000 Sacharuna Foundation — $100,000 CS Fund (2013 990 ending 10/30/2014) — $100,000 Goldman Sachs Charitable Gift Fund — $100,000 Marisla Foundation — $75,000 V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation — $50,000 The Bellweather Foundation II — $ 30,000 Atherton Family Foundation — $29,000 Appleton Foundation — $25,000 Bill Healy Foundation — $25,000 Organic Valley (Farmers Advocating For Organics) — $25,000 Threshold Foundation — $25,000 Flora Family Foundation — $25,000 Firedoll Foundation — $25,000 Silicon Association Valley Community — $25,000 Gaia Fund — $20,000 Cornell Douglas Foundation Inc. — $20,000 Park Foundation, Inc. — $20,000 Boston Foundation — $20,000 New World Foundation — $15,000 Colad Charitable Trust — $15,000 Conservation and Preservation Charities of America — $15,787 Community Foundation of Western North Carolina — $12,000 Rudolf Steiner Foundation (RSF) Social Finance — $11,000 Frost Family Foundation (Maui) — $10,000 Gardner Grout Foundation — $10,000 Roy A. Hunt Foundation — $7,500 The Leonora Foundation Inc. — $ 5,000 Benjamin J. Rosenthal Foundation — $ 5,000 Robert P. Rotella Foundation — $ 5,000 E&H Humbly Bumbly Foundation — $2,476 The Aufmuth Family Foundation — $200 

More opaque funding came from other sources — Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation and two organic companies, Nutiva and Sky Island Organics — which disclosed they donated, but not how much. The Johnson foundation gave to both the national and Hawaii CFS offices, while Nutiva contributed to both CFS and Hawaii SEED. And it got $11,629 from the "combined federal campaign" (federal workers).

CFS also received a $1.358 million windfall in 2014 from a 2013 class action lawsuit brought in California against a manufacturer of hair and skin care products. Plaintiffs claimed they were misled by the packaging and advertising of purportedly “wholly organic” hair and skin care products that failed to meet the requirements of California’s organic standards law, which resulted in a class-action settlement of $6.5 million. Attorneys’ fees and administration costs reduced that to $4.866 million. Claims were capped at a maximum of $28 per person, and people had six months to file. Apparently, few did, as $2.716 million was left in the pot when claim period ended. By court order, it was split evenly between the Consumers Union — the publisher of Consumer Reports, which claims to be non-partisan, but is actively anti-GMO — and CFS. These two groups, and the lawyers who filed the suit, made out like bandits in a case that was much ado about nothing.

There’s a growing argument that cy pres (“as near as”) awards to NGOs are predatory and unconstitutional. Basically, CFS received the cy pres funds because it works to uphold the National Organic Standards Act. In other words, its “underlying mission” was sufficient to make it a beneficiary of the settlement, though CFS did not initiate the lawsuit nor provide legal counsel to plaintiffs. In a more just world, the court might have directed such funds to a worthy cause — say, a food bank. But that’s not how the cy pres doctrine works.

Flush with cash, CFS opened a field office in Honolulu in 2014 and hired Ashley Lukens, a political science PhD, to run it. According to its tax return, the Center for Food Safety expended $738,569 to open and operate its new Hawaii field office in 2014.

A CFS press release said the office was staffed by Lukens, program director, and Kasho Ho, a community outreach coordinator. How did the fledgling, two-person office manage to expend $738,569? The tax form provides no details. We know, however, that CFS assisted in the 2014 GMO moratorium ballot measure campaign on Maui that year. But the tax form supplies no details about this political campaign activity and related expenditures.

In 2014, CFS executive director Andrew Kimbrell claimed that he received $217,441 from CFS, with an additional $17,400 shown as estimated “other compensation from the organization and related organizations.” In fact, he received nearly twice that amount, or $32,500, in 2014 from the Cornerstone Campaign, which is led by two Rockefeller heiresses:
CFS drags its feet in filing tax returns, which is why we're only now seeing its 2014 return. What's more, the return for its political action fund, which has been used to influence Hawaii politics, is not available on Guidestar, leaving citizens in the dark.

Nevertheless, a look at the returns filed by various foundations gives us a glimpse of CFS' income sources for 2015:
Other foundations that previously funded CFS have not yet reported on Guidestar. They include: Hawaii Community Foundation; Marisla Foundation (Anne Getty Earhart); William Zimmerman Foundation; David B. Gold Foundation; V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation; Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation; Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Inc.; RSF Social Finance; Appleton Foundation; Bill Healy Foundation; Flora Family Foundation; San Francisco Foundation; New World Foundation; Conservation and Preservation Charities of America; Community Foundation of Western North Carolina; Hawaii People’s Fund; Nutiva; Sky Island Organics; Organic Valley; and the Combined Federal Campaign.

Unfortunately, many foundations are now failing to attach a roster of grants made to their 990-PF form. This is a disturbing trend that further shields grant-making from public scrutiny.

So how is CFS using its money, aside from running a propaganda campaign in Hawaii? Though its own return offers few details, the 2015 returns filed by its funders shed more light. I'll delve into that in the next installment.

Again, many thanks to Rory Flynn for his painstaking research.