Monday, May 13, 2013

Musings: Tone Deaf

The underbelly of Kauai is again getting national exposure, this time in a New York Times Magazine thumbsucker about the monk seal killings. The article makes this point: the NMFS proposal to relocate seals here from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands was culturally and politically tone-deaf, and incited animosity toward the endangered animals.

The piece included an embarrassingly tone-deaf interview with Mayor Bernard Carvalho, who expressed bewilderment about the Justice Department's crackdown over the Newell's shearwaters. Bernard still refuses to acknowledge that the feds and state repeatedly warned the county to correct its light-attraction problem, as I detailed in the Honolulu Weekly:

[DOFAW Director Scott] Fretz confirmed that the state “had been interacting with and discussing solutions with the county for years. We told them what was going on, what would help.”

But Bernard, who was director of parks and rec at the time, just stonewalled and foot-dragged — you know, the same way he's responding to the transient vacation rental problem that has mushroomed under his watch.

What really staggered me, though, was this tone-deaf quote:

As Holly Doremus, an environmental legal scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, writes, America has saved so much without ever asking “how much wild nature society needs, and how much society can accept.”

Like wild nature is something “saved” for our recreation, exploration and missionary work, rather than dwindling remnants of intact, healthy ecosystems, which we all depend upon for life.

Meanwhile, scientists are slowly turning their attention to the equally misunderstood ecosystem within us. They've learned the lowly bacteria that we're usually trying to kill are a significant factor in our health and well-being, and likely play a role in such diseases as obesity, autism, depression, asthma and even cancer. It seems the overuse of antibiotics and a rise in Caesarian deliveries and bottle-feeding (not to mention all that crappy, pesticide-contaminated food that folks consume) are contributing to imbalances in gut flora.

Which leads to an interesting research paper on glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Roundup, which is so heavily used these days, especially on dietary staples like corn, soy, wheat and sugar:

We have found clear evidence that glyphosate disrupts gut bacteria and suppresses the CYP [cytochrome P450] enzyme class. CYP enzymes play crucial roles in biology, one of which is to detoxify xenobiotics [drugs, pesticides, carcinogens]. Evidence of disruption of gut bacteria by glyphosate is available for both cattle and poultry.

The authors suggest that this CYP enzyme disruption could be playing a significant role in human disease, and also contributing to the widespread collapse of bees by reducing their innate ability to resist pesticides.

The paper goes on to report that Americans use a whopping 100 million pounds of Roundup annually — up from 85-90 million pounds a decade ago. Much of that increase can be attributed to the popularity of Roundup Ready crops, and the herbicide's use as a preharvest desiccant on sugar cane, wheat, RR sugar beets, canola and cottonseed for oils, among others.

In response to a petition by Monsanto, the EPA just approved a new rule that increases the allowable levels of glyphosate residue in crops, especially animal feed. Though some researchers believe damage can occur with glyphosate residues below 0.1 ppm, the EPA is allowing residues of 10 ppm in sugar beets, 30 ppm in wheat and 40 ppm in oil sees (except canola, which is 20 ppm.) Allowable animal feed residues range from 100 to 400 ppm.

Not surprisingly, the intensive use of Roundup has led to the development of herbicide-resistant “super weeds,” prompting Dow and Monsanto to come up with genetically engineered corn, soybean and soybeans seeds that can resist much nastier herbicides, like 2,4-D (an ingredient in Agent Orange) and dicamba. The 2,4-D is of particular concern because it can volatilize in heat and migrate off-site. Dicamba, on the other hand, “is mobile in most soils and significant leaching is possible.”

But instead of its usual rubber-stamp, the USDA just announced it will conduct two separate Environmental Impact Statements on the proposed crops to better inform its decision-making regarding deregulation of these GE crops:

With regard to these new herbicide-resistant plants, through its analysis of information submitted by the developers, as well as public comments, APHIS [USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] has determined that its regulatory decisions may significantly affect the quality of the human environment.

Ya think?

More than 400,000 people signed a petition opposing the 2,4-D crops. APHIS also plans to conduct hearings, though the agency hasn't yet said where. It sure would be nice to hold one on Kauai, so we can weigh in and find out whether Dow is experimenting with those seeds here. Because surely we have a right to know if unapproved plants are being cultivated on our island, seeing as how invasive species and environmental contamination are already serious problems.

In closing, I'll leave you with these tone-deaf corporate comments:

Monsanto called the USDA's decision "unexpected" [because they normally get whatever they want from the feds?] and said in a statement it would use the extra time to broaden development of the dicamba-resistant seeds.

Kenda Resler-Friend, a spokeswoman for Midland, Mich.-based Dow, said the USDA's new seeds are eagerly anticipated by farmers, who are having an increasingly hard time fighting weeds across the Corn Belt because of resistance to glyphosate. "Those weed problems are getting worse every single year," she said.



Anonymous said...

did anyone catch last year's Holly Jolly and the CA's depiction of their terrible troubles with the Newell Shearwaters - despicable response by those who are suppose to be responsible in representing the laws of the land!

Anonymous said...

When is Lenny going to stop using Roundup in the parks? Disgusting!!

Andy Parx said...

Here's the USDA press release
Note how the second paragraph is about how safe these two toxins have been since the 60's and it saves the lead regarding the "determin(ation) that its regulatory decisions may significantly affect the quality of the human environment" for the third to last paragraph.

You've gotta think this is the last thing they want to do and there must have been some incredible pressure to get them to do it.

Anonymous said...

Kauai government has always been slow to accept basic human progress regarding the rights of women or the protection of the environment and animals. Its quite neanderthal.

When was the last time a cock-fight actually got busted? So many sex harass lawsuits. Thumbing nose at Federal environmental law. Buck the Firds mentality. Yet, if we dont keep Bernard, then who? Shay? Mel? Maybe Gary?

Anonymous said...

Kauai government? We have laws prohibit cruelty to animals (cock fighting) protect the environment and women. They may not be as vigorously enforced as you would like, but take that up with the prosecutor who is unbound by the "mentality". And watch Gary run for mayor in two years. That's about what his self imposed term limit will allow.

Anonymous said...

Under Bernard in six years we have no drug rehabilitation center and are no closer to a new landfill but you can better your bottom dollar that he will run again.

Just because there are federal laws here doesn't mean they are enforced here...

Anonymous said...

Who in their right mind would want to run for and god forbid get elected to be Mayor? And give up your life 24/7 for what?

Anonymous said...

Justin is the last one who even tried to file any anti-cockfighting cases. Unsurprisingly Iseri had them dismissed after he left OPA in 2009

Alphonse said...

This is cool!