Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Musings: Celebratory and Not

Up early, unable to sleep; out early, walking with the dogs. The sky is buried beneath a blanket of gray; the air is thick, wet, dead. I am thinking, this is what it must be like to live in Guam, or the Midwest — ugh — when suddenly the wind gusts, gentle rain begins to fall and the birds bust out a celebratory songfest.

Councilman Gary Hooser is quoted in today's paper as describing what's happened over the last month on Kauai in response to his pesticide/GMO bill as a “celebration of grassroots democracy.”

It doesn't feel very celebratory to me, unless you're talking about the kind of celebrations staged by dysfunctional families where everyone's fighting and distrustful and taking sides and talking stink. The energy on the island has felt downright turbulent, with a striking number of people using the word “growly” to describe their state of mind.

But it does feel very much like democracy, in that what is being served up is not exactly what you want, but it's the only thing on the menu.

I think there's pretty widespread sentiment that the seed industry, like the tour boats and TVRs before it, needs to be more carefully scrutinized and managed. But when I look at the boating issue – that bitter standoff ended only when then-Gov. Cayetano stepped in, and two decades later the county is struggling with rules and threatened lawsuits — and the complete and utter debacle of the TVR law, well, let's just say it requires a greater imagination than mine to believe the county can implement Gary's bill.

And if 2,000 people show up, as Gary expects, at a venue that can seat 500 to 600 and even half want to give their three-minutes of testimony in an event that will last roughly 12 hours, you don't have to be a genius to see the math doesn't work. Which means a lot of folks will be left out, just like in a democracy.

I didn't end up going to last night's forum sponsored by the biotech industry. I thought about it, but I'd just been swimming in the ocean, and so I was happy, and I knew that if I went, I would get unhappy. Besides, I'm pretty well-versed in the pro-biotech arguments. I have actually studied both sides.

And I can totally relate to the concerns voiced by small farmers and ranchers who feel they are already over-regulated and fear their own pesticide practices will be scrutinized and possibly banned next. It ain't easy to make it as a farmer on Kauai, and I give kudos to every one who is pulling it off, conventional and organic alike. They really are getting it from all sides, and the new food safety laws will only make things harder.

As one non-farmer friend who opposes the bill put it: “I feel like I should be standing up for the farmers. It's kind of like that saying, 'first they came for the communists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist, then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up and by the time they came for me, there was no one left to speak up.' Is it going to get to where I have to report to Gary Hooser every time I buy a can of Raid?”

To which I might reply, well, first we noticed that we no longer have bugs on our windshields, but nobody said anything, because we don't like bugs. Then we saw the amphibians die off — a new study has found pesticides in frogs 50-100 miles from California's Central Valley, at body concentrations higher than was found in the remote mountain ponds where they live — but we didn't say anything, because who cares about frogs and toads? Then we saw the bees dying off – the newest study implicates fungicides and the cumulative impacts of multiple pesticides in colony collapse disorder — and that got our attention, because they pollinate our food. But still, we didn't say much, because they're just insects.

I'd like to speak for all of them, because these die-offs are a way of speaking to me, as in canary-in-the-coal-mine early warning signs about the dangers of our pesticide use.

In a letter to the editor today, we have the Hawaii Nurses Association speaking up in support of pesticide disclosure and buffer zones to protect human health.

In testimony submitted on Bill 2491,  Dr. Carl Berg writes:

My preliminary testing for the pesticide Atrazine on Kauai has found positive readings for two west-side ditches and four streams. More sophisticated analytical techniques will be used to confirm these results.

A very preliminary survey by the Hawaii Department of Health in 2012 found detectable amounts of Atrazine, the insecticide Carbaryl, and the Nonylphenol surfactants used as wetting agents in pesticides, in Kauai streams. This was part of a preliminary nationwide survey and did not look for the full range of pesticides being used on Kauai. The raw data is under review by the HEER office and the results will not be released right away.

A study of more streams and looking for more types of pesticides is needed to show how widely agriculture, as being practiced on Kauai, has polluted our waterways and the ocean, and is detrimental to the health of our community and to the environment. Pesticides in the water are unhealthy for our people and for the tourist industry. If high levels of pollutants are found, the beaches must be posted and closed.

As an example of how pesticides may be entering the waterways, this video depicts erosion and runoff from one of Pioneer's Kaumakani fields last year.

So while this bill isn't exactly what I'd order up, it's at least got people speaking up about an issue that really does concern us all, in one way or another. If we can get to the place where we're actually conversing, well, then that will be cause for a celebration.


Anonymous said...

And as the TVR drives up rent for local people, so does the GMO corporate farm drive up rent for local farmers.

Larry said...

IMHO, it would be not at all a bad thing if local farmers, on each island, were held to pesticide use regulations.

As it is, no one is checking them at all. Here on Oahu, the DOH occasionally takes a small sample of (if I understand correctly) delivered crops. They made a big deal about finding pesticide residue on a vegetable that was not approved for use on that crop.

One should not confuse that publicity with regulation.

Gary Hooser has one op-ed in today's Star-Advertiser (behind the paywall, of course), and a counter-argument is in another. The counter-argument offers, as one example, that ibuprofin is more toxic than ag chemicals. That's ridiculous. One can take several times the recommended maximum does of iburprofin if recommended by a doctor. Nut no one would want to be exposed to a proven carcinogen.

The hype goes on, at the expense of our health and in favor of corporate profit.

Over the last couple of years we've gone through the ups and downs of human trafficking accusations against farms on Oahu and other islands. The major actions all failed due to prosecutorial errors. Along the way we learned that trafficked workers could not read the label instructions on the use of agricultural chemicals. Also, it was alleged that bags are being illegally burned in the fields and that workers were not provided with protective clothing.

If there are abuses, they would not be limited to trafficked workers.

None of this has resulted in followup by state authorities.

So the issues that are involved in Kauai's bill may (and should) affect other farmers.

Reputable tweets documented overspray on Oahu onto crops about to be picked for market, a violation of regulations for that pesticide. Farm plots are so close together here that undocumented overspray may be quite common--in other words, a farmer's crops are sprayed by a neighbor with who knows what (actually, many pesticides can be identified by their characteristic odor). What does a farmer do with a crop sprayed by a neighbor? And who's checking?

Truth be told, we are admonished to "buy local" for health reasons and to support local farmers, but we have close to zero assurance that agricultural chemicals are being applied appropriately or safely.

I found that "foodies" don't want to talk about this. The mantra is "buy local" and the heck with what could be on the crop.

We can and should do better. At the moment, eyes are on Gary Hooser and Kauai to see if there is leadership in this area.

Anonymous said...

It's a meaningless exercise since it will be overturned in court even if it passes since it is preempted by federal law. But, as long as all this activity keeps you off the streets and out of my hair, go for it.

Anonymous said...

locals are responsible for the way Kauai is today. You were here first. Your families have been here for centuries. Whine to your parents. We only came here to surf.

Andy Parx said...

One of the saddest things I've seen yet- Marjorie Bronster representing DuPont at the hearing today... you could tell even she didn't believe what she was saying as she hemmed and hawed her way through it.
Does she really need the money that badly? Or was there no one else out there who would represent them.

Anonymous said...

I am not aware of the grumbling, dysfunctional families squabbling, etc. I really wanted to attend today's testimony function, but when we passed by at 1:40 pm, saw the crowd, blue shirts, red shirts---i told my family we would skip the scene and go back home to Waimea. It's not right when people write and say we are uneducated because we don't want pesticides in our community. iT'S not right when the workers believe that the bill will cause them to lose their jobs! Who is telling the biggest lies? Who are believing the lies?!

Elif Beall said...

When you write, "I can totally relate to the concerns voiced by small farmers and ranchers . . . " I know that the mis-information campaign by the biotech companies is working.

One of their most effective tactics has been to say is that Bill 2491 is going to negatively effect small farmers. THAT IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE.

Section 22.22.5 of the Bill specificly limits buffer zones to commercial ag entities that "annually purchase five (5) pounds or fifteen (15) gallons of restricted use pesticides" and/or experimental pesticides. And historically, no small farms on Kauai do this. As I read the Bill, it was written to address the largest users of the most highly toxic pesticides. And as written, the Bill addresses 98% of all RUP use on the island.

I personally know 5 small farmers, people whose livelihood depends on farming, who strongly support this Bill. Many of them testified yesterday. And they know that unless they use high amounts of RUPs, this Bill WILL NOT NEGATIVELY AFFECT SMALL FARMS.

Joan Conrow said...

Elif, first, thanks for using your name. I always appreciate that.

I fully recognize that part of the misinformation campaign has been to claim this bill will harm small farmers, which I do not believe is true.

However, that doesn't mean I can't also relate to the concerns of those who do believe it, and understand why they believe it. It's called empathy.

Elif Beall said...

Yes, Joan, I understand. I should have been more clear.

I believe that the reason these small farmers and ranchers are concerned is due to the misinformation specifically being targeted at them to cause that fear. I don't blame them for their concern, nor you for your empathy.

I'm very frustrated and alarmed by the methods the biotech companies are using to try and defeat the Bill, including the robo-calls, misleading "polls", tricky websites, and the "neutral independant" scientists they flew in for the Farmer Dialogues.

My frustration may have distorted my earlier comment. I apologize for that.

Joan Conrow said...

Thanks, Elif, but no need for an apology.

I fully share your frustration with the biotech industry's devious tactics and deliberate spread of misinformation.

Anonymous said...

Andy (July 31, 2013 at 4:11 PM):

Can you state why you believe that Marjery's pre-emption argument is invalid? Her arguments seemed very compelling. Unless you can show otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Don't know about the legalities but reading Joan's blog has me convinced that the County can't do it.

Anonymous said...

Marjorie (if you can't beat them then just join them) Bronster. She learnt that going against the big boys will get you fired.

To some money and a career is worth everything.

Anonymous said...

You obviously don't know Margery's accomplishments. she's that one that busted the kamehameha schools trustee board for fraud so its obvious this chick has cojones and KNOWS her law. isnt she the one that represented some plaintiffs in those OPA cases or something.

Anyways, all she was saying was that you can't have a county law when there are federal and state laws already in place. It's like the council trying to tell the governor what to do...sorry, governor trumps council...that kinda thing.

It's like with everything else, if there is a statewide law, counties cannot make up their own to contradict it...each county is governed by what state laws are in place today.

Hey Joan, do you know if Gary and Tim have even tried at the State level this past legislative session to change the pesticide/gmo laws? If not, to me it seems like they're wasting time on this here if "legally" they can't trump what's in state law already. It would be interesting to see if they sent in any testimony regarding any of the pesticide and/or GMO bills this past session.

Has Gary/Tim tried petitioning the Federal Government to change their regulations to mandate all "corporations" as stated in the bill to disclose to the county's the amount they are using for pesticides? I mean, I support the right to know...but again, if there are federal and state laws that already regulate the amounts they use, what next?

I just don't think Gary made any effort to research all this and try at the state and federal level before having council staff draft the bill. It pisses me off the council is using the community and tearing thhis island apart.

they need to split the bill, 1. gmo production/regulation, 2. pesticide issues. The pesticide issue can address the "corporations", farmers, households, etc. The gmo bill can address gmos in general.

Also, if you look at the definitions in the bill, the definitions of "corporation" and "gmo" are NOT concurrent with the real definitions...this bill does NOT protect farmers. they should specifically name those "corporations" that use RUP and say that they are the only ones that need to disclose information so that the farmers not using RUPs are truelly protected.

What do you think Joan?