Though concerns about human and environmental health were supposedly the main drivers behind Bill 2491, it will be another three years before any scientific studies on those issues are completed.
And it's questionable, given the process outlined in a resolution before the County Council today, whether the scientific work to be undertaken will have any credibility. It's also unclear how much it will cost, or who will pay.
But that's not stopping Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura, Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum from forging ahead.
The resolution — initially introduced by JoAnn and former Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura and heavily amended last week in the Committee of the Whole — calls for hiring a “neutral facilitator" to convene and facilitate a Pesticide and Genetic Engineering Joint Fact-finding Group (JFFG) comprised of knowledgeable scientific, medical and environmental experts and community stakeholders to design and oversee a focused, accountable and credible Environmental Health Impact Study (EPHIS).
Here's where things get squirrely. Those 12-15 participants are supposed to come from Kauai AND be respected, representative of the community, balanced in terms of perspectives and willing to serve on the panel. Good luck on that. What's more, they must be vetted by Bynum and Council Chair Jay Furfaro, both of whom voted for 2491, and the mayor, who vetoed it.
So right off the bat, we're talking about a highly-politicized process to even form the group, with Gary adamantly opposed to anyone from the farm bureau or chemical/seed companies serving. Apparently he doesn't believe conventional farmers or biotech workers are a part of this community, or legitimate stakeholders with information about their practices and industry that could add to the process.
Once the group is cobbled together, it has a year to define the scope of the EPHIS, following this process (emphasis added because that language jumped out at me):
Undertake sustained and science-centered deliberations to identify the highest priority environmental and public health questions pertinent to the pesticides used and genetically modified crops grown by the Kauai Coffee and the four biotech companies “in comparison to the production of other agricultural products.”
So little Kauai, all by its lonesome, is supposed to determine whether GMO crops are as safe as any other agricultural product?
The group is also directed to come up with recommendations “as to the highest priority questions to be asked,” as well as “preferred methodologies for replicable studies, monitoring and epidemiological studies; including the thresholds of safety or danger related to the pesticides.”
Why in the world is Kauai County even considering studies to determine the safety of pesticides already approved by the federal government – studies that could take decades and millions of dollars to conduct? And how likely are we to get any money from the state or feds to do this?
The group is tasked as well with assembling an inventory of reliable existing studies – "preferably but not exclusively peer-reviewed," which opens the door to all kinds of crap — on the high priority questions, and estimate the cost and timelines of such studies, as well as identify possible funding sources.
Here's another questionable bit: The group can consult with “experts” who will not be disqualified from conducting the studies they suggest, which seems rather self-serving.
Once the recommendations are in, the resolution calls for the county to carry out the EPHIS, with the JFFG, providing oversight.
Now comes the alarming part. The county will seek funding not only from government, but private funders “as deemed appropriate, and from a variety of sources and diverse stakeholders willing to support a community process built on community consensus.”
So in other words, “red shirt” Realtors Neal Norman and Mimsy Bouret, or billionaire developer Pierre Omidiyar, could pay for studies that we're all supposed to believe are legitimate, unbiased and credible.
And who will determine “as deemed appropriate?” Councilmembers who have received substantial contributions from high-end realtors and developers?
The EPHIS report is anticipated to take 18 months, according to the resolution, though it's hard to see how they arrived at that figure since the JFFG is supposed to come up with a timetable. So it could actually be even longer than three years to get any info — despite Gary's insistence that the bill had to be passed immediately because of the terrible urgency in regard to people's health concerns.
It's unfortunate The Garden Island has failed to cover this issue, but even the “red shirts” seem to have lost interest, with blogger Andy Parx prodding folks on Facebook that they still need to pay attention to the process. Yawn. Marches and campouts at the county building are so much more fun.
But “red shirt” leader Andrea Brower was at the last committee meeting, where she was seen apparently feeding questions to Gary via an electronic device. Gee, didn't Gary get in a super snit about county communications director Beth Tokioka texting Nadine and JoAnn during a Council session?
Apparently what's not good for the goose is just fine for the gander.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Ruggles, the staff person from Pesticide Action Network who claimed she saw Beth improperly texting, has moved on, as paid political instigators do, with a nice send-off party by the “red shirt” leaders and Gary.
The county has just $110,000 allocated for this EPHIS process, which is expected to cost well over $1 million, or likely more, given the hefty price tag associated with some of these studies. Who do you think is really motivated to kick in the rest?
Or will it just die because there's no money, and the whole purpose of this exercise was not to actually improve or even accurately assess human or environmental health around the biotech fields, but make a political point that helps Gary and the national anti-GMO groups?
To borrow a phrase from Kauai Rising — correction, Ohana O Kauai — folks on this island need to “wake up” and start paying attention to who and what are really behind 2491. Because from the language of the bill itself and this EPHIS resolution, it seems to have very little to do with reducing harm and improving health.