Now we'll see whether the rest of the Council — Tim Bynum is a co-sponsor — goes along next Wednesday. A majority must approve Bill 2491 on first reading, which then gets it a committee assignment.
It's a bold bill, and I give Gary a lot of credit for introducing it. Especially since we do not have a bold county government.
Gary reportedly asked Chair Jay Furfaro for at least 90 minutes of meeting time as folks from the Center for Food Safety are flying in give the Council a presentation on pesticides and GMOs. But Jay allocated just 20 minutes.
And the bill hadn't been out an hour before I started hearing a buzz from official quarters that the GMO moratorium part is most likely illegal. The chemical/seed industry, which has some of the best lawyers that money can buy, will no doubt do everything in its power to stoke the fear of a monumental lawsuit. Unfortunately, such tactics are frequently successful with Kauai County, which is terrified of being sued.
Already we are hearing Jay and Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. say that pesticide regulation is really a state function, which is not very secret code for "we don't want to touch it."
In its press release, PAN notes "this all-volunteer, citizens’ effort expects a lot of opposition from pesticide-GE seed corporations." That's true, although watch for significant opposition as well from farmers, ranchers, pest control companies, golf course owners and all the myriad people who use and sell pesticides, as well as those with economic and job concerns. Oh, and let's not forget the powerful landowners: A&B, Grove Farm, Kamehemeha Schools, Gay & Robinson, the state. None of them want to lose lessees willing to pay top dollar for land.
And I'm not sure it truly qualifies as "an all-volunteer, citizens' effort" if PAN and Center for Food Safety are involved. That doesn't bother me personally, as both groups do a lot of good and the local movement needed direction. However, this is provincial little Kauai, which tends to circle the wagons when it thinks outsiders are trying to come in and run things.
Of course, the chemical companies are also outsiders, but they're the outsiders that the state has courted and supported, which makes them insider-outsiders, especially since they're spending money.
I believe there is a lot of community interest in the pesticide issue, though this bill addresses only restricted use pesticides applied by companies that purchase more than five pounds or 15 gallons annually. Or in other words, Kauai Coffee and the seed companies.
State records show these companies use a lot of gnarly stuff, in sizable quantities, including atrazine, Dursban, Lorsban and other proprietary chemicals. According to court documents filed in the pesticide dust lawsuit against Pioneer, that company applied pesticides to its West Kauai fields on 67 percent of the days in a year.
And when they're controlling some 12,000 acres from Lihue to Mana, the impact is going to be significant. People have both the desire and the right to know what these companies are spraying, as well as when and where. Experimental pesticides are another serious concern, as these haven't gone through the full federal regulatory process.
I worry, however, that the pesticide issue — which is very quantifiable, with lots of scientific data showing impacts — will be overshadowed by the GMO issue, which isn't quite so cut and dried, at least in terms of scientific studies. I would have preferred to see separate bills, though it can be a political strategy to drop the sticky part of proposed ordinance to get approval on the rest.
I also think it's questionable to have Kauai County conduct an EIS to ascertain the impacts of growing genetically modified crops on the island. Typically that burden and those costs are borne by those who are proposing a use. The language in the bill relating to an EIS is also really broad, including testing human volunteers for pesticide residues. I'm not an attorney — as some commenters like to remind me — but I think it would be tough to prove that a person's pesticide burden can be directly linked to the cultivation of GE crops.
But my biggest concern about the bill is how it gives permitting oversight and other responsibilities to the Department of Public Works — the same guys who were approving vacation rentals with enclosed downstairs in the flood zone, the same guys who now spray Roundup on county parks and roadsides.
Let's face it. The county totally sucks at enforcement. I've already heard that the anticipated enforcement for this bill will be self-regulation by the industry.
First, though, it has to pass, and while I'm a perennial optimistic, I'm also a pragmatist. The seed companies have deep pockets and years of experience running propaganda campaigns. More important, they hold the all-powerful westside employment card. And when it comes to choosing between money and the environment and human health, well, we know which one has always won in Hawaii.
To use an agricultural idiom, getting this bill through the County Council is gonna be a tough row to hoe.