Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Musings: On Shorelines and Seed Companies

The County Council will have an opportunity today to clean up the mess of a shoreline bill approved last week by the planning committee.

Bill 2461 has far-reaching implications for Kauai's coastal lands. As written, it serves to facilitate coastal development and redevelopment, and could exempt an untold number of lots from a shoreline review. As one example, the nefarious vacation rental remodels exposed in the Abuse Chronicles would get a free pass. No shoreline certification would be required for repairs or cesspool relocations, cutting the public out of the process in an area that is known to be extremely problematic.

The planning committee passed the bill last week without having access to the complete document. The final draft bill, with its many amendments, was only compiled late last week, after the vote.

Hopefully they've all had a chance to read the thing and will take the time to deliberate the consequences of its language, including the “bright-line exemptions” proposed by developers. Even UH Seagrant has identified a few problems with that particular provision, and also submitted testimony clarifying that the maps it created don't represent all the properties that would be exempt from the "bright line" test.  
In fact, no one really knows how many properties will be affected, since there is no GIS dataset that reflects the location of rocky shorelines as defined by the bill.
Unfortunately, Council Chair Jay Furfaro has been pushing to have all the work done in committee — the same poor strategy he employed in dealing with Bill 2491, the overturned pesticide/GMO regulatory law. But this is serious bill, with long lasting impacts, and it deserves the full Council's scrutiny. 

The Council also seems too inclined to follow the advice of Chris Conger, the former Seagrant shoreline locator. However, they seem to be forgetting Chris' “no-history” strategy for setting shorelines was thrown out by the Hawaii Supreme Court. He may be an “expert,” but he's not always right. Plus now he's a consultant for developers, not a public servant.

In other land use issues, Luke Evslin and his father, Dr. Lee Evslin — a respected pediatrician who testified in support of Bill 2491 — recently took the time to visit the Dupont-Pioneer operation in Waimea. Luke, who believes biotech can co-exist with other agricultural practices on Kauai, was motivated, in part, by this quote from Howard G. Buffet:

The vast majority of farmers in the world farm because it is their only option.  In many cases, it is a failing option. The global food ecosystem is complex; we need to develop a deeper understanding of where food comes from and what people who grow it have to endure.

Luke wrote a blog post about his visit that is well worth reading. Here's one excerpt:

So, what goes on behind the intimidating guard shack across the Russian Fort is less sinister and more mundane than I'd imagined. Farmers from around the world come to Pioneer with a request for certain traits: including adaptation to regional soil type and rain fall, disease resistance, plant architecture, time to maturity, pesticide resistance, etc. Breeders around the world will send kernels of plants with desirable traits to Kaua'i for the scientists here to plant, so that they can be pollinated for testing in other locations, to cross pollinate to test hybrid performance, or to add particular traits through breeding. They do it in Hawai'i because our extra growing season allows them to develop inbreds twice as fast as it would take in a temperate climate.

He also discounted a claim commonly uttered by Councilmen Tim Bynum and Gary Hooser and their followers: the seed companies spray pesticides more intensively and often than other farmers. Luke wrote:

Just to reiterate, because this part is important, the traits themselves are developed on the mainland. What they are doing on Kaua'i is merely growing out the inbreds in order to enable the breeders to eventually pick the best inbred parent to be crossed with another inbred to get a hybrid that will (hopefully) be good enough to sell to farmers. Because the development of the traits (including, for example, genetically modified herbicide resistance) is done on the mainland, the crops on Kaua'i are grown under the same conditions that they ultimately will be on the farm.

Each test plot is roughly 36 sq feet and contains about 25 plants, and pesticides are applied to each particular plot based only on need (i.e. an insect infestation). So, while the companies are spraying more than 250 days per year, the average application area is very, very small. Whereas, on a conventional farm, pesticide application occurs less often, but over a thousand-fold more area.

Luke goes on to write about other changes that are needed in our food system and asks some questions about barriers to agriculture on Kauai, which I will get into in another post.

In all, his piece was a thoughtful, intelligent assessment. And when he posted it on Facebook, he got some of the usual knee-jerk reactions from the anti-GMO crowd. Like this from Sol Kahn, who worked with Hooser to draft Bill 2491:

These companies use Kauai and other places as a TESTING site to see how much poison their crops can withstand without dying while killing lots of other animals and plants in the process disrupting our fragile ecosystem. That's what these companies do. Yes they also use hybrid techniques and others. Don't belive their lies Luke. These are not good companies. They create death and have a history of death. There's always a way and this is not the path.

They use fear to get minds to follow them. You're stronger than that. Release yourself from your analytical mind and follow your intuition. You have a strong gift Luke you'd be wise to use it.

Luke the chemical companies aka 'seed companies' are profit driven corporate stock holders. They don't care about helping people.

Funny, how the seed companies are the only “profit driven corporate stock holders” being singled out for attack — not the resort chains, or the rental car companies or the clothing companies that sponsor MMA fighters like mayoral hopeful Dustin Barca. And even funnier how Sol fails to recognize the fear-mongering strategy still used by the antis.

But my favorite came from the self-described “rabid reporter” Andy Parx, who last year was lauded by activists as “the voice” of the 2491 movement. His misinformed spiel — he admits he hasn't even read Luke's post — is a classic representation of the anti-GMO mindset:

I haven't gotten to read your piece yet Luke But Katie [Horgan's] and Sol's comments indicate you are buying the "big lies." Info from "Good Neighbor" is limited, completely untrustworthy and manipulated. And cross breeding and genetic manipulation are totally different things. It's a ridiculous argument designed to bamboozle people who can't tell the difference. I'll try to make time tomorrow.

You want to argue opinion. I don't. As a journalist I'm skeptical of anything presented as factual. What I've found if [sic] that what they are telling you is not factual. You're being sold a bill of goods by these guys. But since it lines up with your opinion you don't have the same kind of skepticism and so don't challenge it. As they say you're entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. That's the nice thing about science- it doesn't care what your opinion is.

Yes- I'm a tough audience. When I see slight of hand and illusionary magic I tend to tell the crowd where the smoke and mirrors are. It's easy to misunderstand this stuff without a basic understanding of genetics from Mendel to Crick and Watson to genome mapping. And it seems they are taking advantage of that to confuse people. Do you understand the basics of cross-breeding? 

It's very frustrating trying to describe complicated scientific principles and history in a short sentence or two without using broad statements that are open to being misunderstood- especially when the multinational chemical companies are spending millions, intent on exploiting people's lack of expertise by using weasel words that have lay connotation and use outright misinformation to paint a picture that is false... even if it seems to "make sense." I'm almost sorry I happened to have studies [sic] this stuff in school because now I'm stuck trying to explain whole textbooks and lectures in a Facebook blurb "disputing the experts". Don't take my word for it- but at the same time don't take their word on it even more because their livelihood depends on imparting basically false impressions through specially designed PR campaigns That song "She Blinded me With Science" comes to mind...

Don't worry, Andy. We won't take your word for it. Not on this, or any other topic.

In looking at the comment thread that followed Luke's post on both his blog and Facebook, I felt heartened. Some people were asking sensible questions. Others were thanking Luke. This time last year, he would've been crucified and vilified — like the mayor, me and everybody else who dared to oppose the frothing fistees.

I see that as a very positive sign. Reason is slowly starting to return, and people are getting bolder about speaking up on this issue. We need to reclaim this debate from the ill-informed spewers, the fear-fanners, the ideologues who can't possibly entertain another train of thought, a different point of view.

Contrary to what some of our Councilmembers and their fistee followers like to pretend, this isn't an all-or-nothing, us-against-them game. They are the ones who drew up those rules. We don't have to play.


Unknown said...

Thank you for the link. I should expand a little on the idea that they don't spray any more than conventional farmers. As I just found out from a friend who works for one of the companies, that may be a bit misleading. He confirmed that they are spraying in response to what's happening in the field, but, that on average they are spraying more than a conventional farm for two reasons:

1) Seed crops stay in the field longer to dry out, so, just based on time in the ground, on average they're being sprayed more than other crops.

2) There is more pressure from insects, mold, and weeds in the tropics that on the mainland. So, while spraying in response to those things, they are inevitably going to spray more (as any conventional farmer in Hawai'i likely is).

As always, the argument is complex and nuanced. And, it makes conflicting statements both true: while they're spraying in response to pest pressures, that doesn't necessarily mean they are spraying the same amount as a conventional farm on the mainland.

Also I just want to clarify that I am in full support of disclosure, buffer zones, and further study. As we can see in the complexity of this one question (do they spray more?), disclosure is vital. And regardless of whether they're spraying more, buffer zones are necessary. And, to determine how big those should be, further study is the most important topic of all.

My visit to Pioneer was definitely illuminating, and strengthened my belief that we can ensure the health and safety of residents on the West Side while also supporting ag, seed production, and biotech.

Joan Conrow said...

Thanks for the follow up, Luke. It's always good to be as clear and accurate as possible.

Anonymous said...

I love this line: "Release yourself from your analytical mind and follow your intuition."

I think that pretty well describes how the Anti's approach their issues. lol

Anonymous said...

Isn't release yourself from your analytical mind similar to immancipate yourself from mental slavery?

Anonymous said...

In regards to Sols comment to Luke:

Barf!!! And eww!!!

I had to re read it twice because my brain starts tuning out immediately when I read such self righteous crap. He assumes so much about Luke by giving his lofty opinion and "holier than thou" advise. Ofcourse it's cleverly colored in "concern". And what makes Sol an expert anyways? Absolutely nothing! Sol is not a real farmer. He's a rich boy who is creating boogeymen to fight. He's not a scientist.

Sol and Andy, and Katie, you should listen to your friend Luke. He's trying to help you be less of a manipulating, lying, corrupt sack of shibai. At least he still cares to try and communicate with people like you. The rest of us have no more patients and are just so sick of hearing the same old sales pitch which hasn't changed even though new, reassuring, real, scientific information has come out. Good luck with all the bridges you've burned and continue to burn.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Joan and Luke Evslin.
Luke wrote what may be the best explanation of what really goes on down there in the Bio-Fields.
I am disappointed, but not surprised that many of the posts in his blog were less than appreciative.
I am also surprised that you, Joan, would give the tilt of your finger to bring up Andy "I never had a job" Parx comments. You have catapulted him into fame. A fame he craves, but has never received. Now thru KE he has achieved his pinnacle. Somewhere between Taylor Camp and Section 8 housing Andy must have received his edjamacation in Horizontal gene transfer and Molecular cloning. Kauai truly has some amazing people.
You are right on bringing up the fact that the island is slowly starting to openly discuss GMOs and Herbicides. Gary and Tim shut down all reasonable questioning of the subject. People were quick to brand you as a poisoner and a GMO shill.
Gary is again pushing his lies on medical statistics. It is time to have more people like Joan and Luke that promote education and inclusion.
Big Ag is NOT going away. There will always be something growing on the land. Cattle, Corn or maybe even Houses.

Anonymous said...

Luke gotta be careful. He might just be asked to run in the Council in 2 years.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the support for what I wrote.

I don't want to get into too much personal details, but Sol is basically an older brother to me as well as a successful organic farmer. Every time I take a bite of food through his CSA, I have a huge amount of respect and appreciation for his farming abilities and his passion on this subject.

So, even though we disagree on the role of biotech on Kaua'i, we are still close friends and I always respect his perspective.

Once again, I appreciate your guys support for what I wrote, and thanks again Joan for sharing the link.

Anonymous said...

A repost, but a valuable one.

Number of people who died of malnutrition last year. 3,000,000.

Number of people who died of GMO crops in last 20 years. 0

Number of lives saved by GMO crops. 1,000,000,000.

First two stats from The Economist. The last from Wikipedia.

In the .1970s a seed corn crop on Kauai did much to save the world from the effects of a world wide corn blight. We are making a huge contribution here with these seed companies to alleviate work hunger. One normal people would be proud of. Proud like we were of our plantations when they were in the prime.. Now the Luddites, nut cases, environmental wackos and crazed council members have bought into fringe delusions. This council has taxed us to death. Kills businesses with abandon. Drives businesses elsewhere, all the while eating well off the tax payer. It is a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

Here’s some news to consider.

After Syngenta sprayed by Waimea Canyon Middle School, they move far away from the school and stopped cropping there. Really old news. BASF, has been far away from any community fields. No issues with them. DOW opened too much fields when they first came to this island. Since then they changed that cultural practice. Again old news. Pioneer Kekaha operation no incidents. Waimea’s Pioneer fields, mother nature still blows her wind, so naturally dust will fly. Whoever jumped on the band wagon and sued Pioneer, good for them, if they can get something out of that Great. I would sue too, to see if I can get something too. So, all you anti’s, get your nose out of Waimea’s business, and let the lawsuit run its course. Their town is none of your business.

All of the seed companies have changed their practices and are more publicly aware of their surroundings. Again, old stuff. So, please stop saying Waimea this and Waimea that. Hopefully the people who sued can get enough funds to buy a property as far away from agriculture as possible. Again, old news.

So, all of you anti’s, you really can stop the mudslinging. If you live on the west side watch the actions of the parties involved (seed companies / anti’s) the seed companies are changing and the anti’s are singing the same old song without watching the actions of these seed companies working hard to do it right.

Actions speak louder than words. These companies contribute to our schools, our kids, our community programs that include all of our sporting activities. They even work hard to get the County Fair off and running, our Garden Fair, our Agricultural Awareness day for our island’s 5th graders and other events. Anti’s do what, bitch and moan saying “why they get money, they can afford to do this community service.” Anti’s actions are all to do with pointing out the wrong, and not even help correct the perceived wrongs.

Gary Lair Looser, is still running like a horse with blinders on. All you anti’s riding on the back of this straight running horse, you really should pull back on the reins and help him take of his blinders.

In fact, leave it on. Let’s hope the silent majority can sway some of his supporters to not vote for a lair! Kauai County needs honorable and fair representatives who will look out for ALL of Kauai.

Thanks Joan for your venue for the silent majority.

Anonymous said...

Sol a farmer? I thought he was an actor/model.

Anonymous said...

Sol is an actor/model? Lol! Omg that makes so much sense! He is ridiculously good looking (in Derek Zoolander voice)
Sol is not a farmer. He's taken up gardening in a large hippy run garden at best. Hey but at least he's attempting to walk his walk. Better than most the antis. Unless this is all a long winded attempt to land a farming reality show/ docu like how barcas campaign made him relevant again so he could get a corporate sponser. Sol is to farming as Zoolander is to coal mining. We'll see how long Sol remains a "farmer". By the way. How are Sol and Barca getting along now? Didn't Barca beat him up for sleeping with his g/f at some point in recent history? I saw a YouTube video. Have they made up for the greater "good"? Or are they just parallel playing? Maybe Sol should run for council. Him and Mason could have a walk-off. May the best looking poser win!

Anonymous said...

Luke's blog reflects him- smart, fair, inquiring, willing to sweat for information and not confrontational or given to cheap clever shots. Many of the Council and the red shirt pundits would improve if they emulated him and reined in a some of their gasbags. They aren't as clever as they think, and having heard their monotonous recitations of their case ad nauseam and at great expense, many of us wish they would just shuck and jive their way off the stage. Enough is enough and neither their command of the facts or their delivery has improved in two years. We are "drenched" in blather and enough falsehoods to populate a couple of chapters in Vandana Shiva's upcoming book. It's a wearying and tiresome distraction from addressing this issue and some of the other truly pressing issues Kauai faces.

Anonymous said...

Seed company shill here,
Joan, like you Luke has accomplished something that has escaped The Garden Island: fact-based reporting on this topic. Probably correlated with his willingness to invest time in coming to learn what we do. I would like to correct his comment to this blog post, however. I’m not sure what his friend was getting at, but the corn crops here spend far less time in the field than they would on the mainland. The first reason is because of our climate, which accelerates the growing cycle. The second is because we usually have tight timelines to ship seeds to wherever they need to go. Thus, we harvest the corn wetter (earlier) than a farmer on the mainland would and dry them in dryers. Surely Luke saw the dryers at the Waimea station? Drying costs money (i.e. fuel/electricity), which a farmer avoids by leaving the crop in the field to be dried by the sun if possible. How this intersects with the lower land use intensity of the seed farms here vs. mainland farms and our tropical environment to impact pesticide use is, like he wrote, complex.

Then there is the quote from Sol Kahn. “Release yourself from your analytical mind… You have a strong gift Luke…” (i.e. critical thinking skills). I half expected to next see: “Use the force! Don’t go to the dark side!” I’m sure he’s a wonderful friend, and apparently a decent farmer, but the melodrama is embarrassing. Like his first testimony last year where he, through tears, accused those who testified in opposition to the bill of not being from Kauai since he didn’t recognize them.

Anonymous said...

God blessed some of us with good looks and to the rest he gave brains.

Anonymous said...

The first part of your post is so important. The bright line amendment is huge. This is a current issue that deserves peoples attention. Please pay attention to the council and how they vote on this topic, and then cast your vote accordingly in November. Luke is the man for sure but the GMO topic is old news.

We need to pay attention to what is happening right now, it is detrimental to our future. Thank you Joan for covering. Please let us know how this shoreline bill shakes out.

Joan Conrow said...

Dear 7:23 -- You're right, the bright line amendment is huge. So huge I'm surprised that Sol, Katie, Dustin, Andrea, Andy, Malama Mahaulepu, Surfrider and all the others who are ready to attack agriculture and "defend what you love" haven't said a peep about this assault on our shorelines.

However, you're quite wrong when you say the "GMO topic is old news." It's still very fresh in the minds of voters.

For those who are interested, the shoreline bill has been deferred until Oct. 22.

Unknown said...

Anonymous 12:19,
Thanks for the clarification regarding time in the ground. I did see the dryers, but, not being very knowledgeable about seed production, I didn't equate that with less time in the ground for the crops.

The important take-away, for me, regardless of how long the crops are in the ground etc is that it's not a poison test site; the seed companies are using pesticide basically the same as any conventional farmer in the same location would. And, that if we embrace an "all-of-the-above" approach to battling food security around the world and on Kaua'i than we need to accept the fact that we play an integral role in the industrial food chain. Yet, given the proximity of residences and the fact that we have a delicate eco-system, we also need to do all we can to ensure the health of people and the environment regardless of what type of ag is going on (seed production, commodity crops, organic production, small local local, etc). Health, environmental preservation, soil and water conservation etc can all be accomplished while supporting the entire agricultural spectrum. So, in my humble opinion, we should be saying: how do we accomplish these things while supporting ag on Kaua'i?

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Joan and Luke for their hard work and commitment to providing balance and thought provoking information for discussion. I too am heartened that there is a climate and appetite for dialog. I think that is the only way we can really have a healthy community on many levels. In order to really drive solutions for our Island we cannot just use a slash and burn approach. We need to break issues down into manageable pieces so we can critically look at them and work towards data driven solutions that reflect the needs and interests of our community.

If it is pesticides for example, let’s get all pesticide users engaged, key community stakeholders and some experts to drive a discussion. From a quick look at the EPA website it looks like there could be grants available to support just these kinds of discussions, not to mention a wealth of educational resources and that is just one resource.

It will take time, effort, and commitment but the money and time spent could lead to an open process that does not divide and isolate, but is inclusive and fact based. Imagine if we could even get our students involved with executing pieces of the scientific process as appropriate.

There is not a one size fits all when it comes to Agriculture or any complex topic. We need to keep our minds open and be inclusive instead of exclusive so that we can build a better future. There are many labels/classifications for Agriculture; organic, conventional, industrial, biotech, etc….none are without issues and at the end of the day there are more similarities than differences among them all. If we can talk about them all respectfully and seek to learn, we will be able to build understanding and solutions.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Evslin, congratulations that educational tour you went on takes a big man to do it. One can really find the truth when you look at the issues from every angle possible. That’s a man thirsty for knowledge. Right on!

Yes we’ve got a delicate eco system, and if we really did wrong to this system it would show up when we had our sugar industry. The sugar industry made it a point to keep the irrigation system, drainage system and the cane field roads open to make this industry operate as smoothly as possible that included round up spraying all over their infrastructure. Erosion was bad, but everyone (sugar companies) had sediment basins on their fields. Still, the runoff was worst back then.

The point is, mother nature / the ocean has currents that really clean our reef and none circulating waters. Mother nature is the best caretaker of our ecosystem, people can do their part. But she does most of the work. She’s the main reason why this island is so precious to all of us. Humans come and go, but she’ll always be here. We can do our part to help her out, so give most of the ECO-SYSTEM credit to mother nature.

“So, in my humble opinion, we should be saying: how do we accomplish these things while supporting ag on Kaua'i?” This is a great point to add onto.

Agricultural lands (old sugar cane fields) were here before the sugar companies / pineapple companies sold lands to build subdivisions and our communities. Now, having said what you said, “Important Agricultural Lands, IAL” was brought up by the state government for the purpose of seeing urban encroachment to agricultural lands inevitable. The community is up in arms that agricultural lands are encroaching on their urbanization. Urbanization should not forget, that without ag lands, there wouldn’t be any subdivisions, they’d be the camps thriving. So how can agriculture and urbanization survive together with a common understanding of each other’s goals of “I’m entitled to my space” in mind?

Land owners can say to the urbanization, look, you want to build next to us since we were here first, YOU, put up your buffers to protect yourselves. Um, that was already brought up with the real estate industry. Guess who thinks they’ve got the first dibbs on this.

Ag lands gives the additional beauty to this island, urbanization adds to it, and that’s why we love Kauai, it’s rural, it’s beautiful and we’ve got open space so we can feel like we’ve got freedom to roam and appreciate what we’ve got.

Ms. Joan brought up a bunch of times in her writing, about having a balance that is fair to everyone living on this island, she’s a very responsible writer.

Anonymous said...

09/24/2014 7:31 a.m.

I’m hoping you're wrong of how you portrayed yourself to be. You’re another rich person buying your piece of paradise and now you’re the expert of this island. Cutting access from the beach so Kauai’s born and raised can’t go there. That’s just one beach. Do it to the rest of the beaches if you’re truly an environmentalist (You can’t! Maybe you can, good luck).

Picking up the opala, we all do that. We all do our part to be environmentally aware, that’s all we can do. Mother Nature does the rest.

Having a good relationship with locals (who you employ) help you understand and they really like you! Well another way to look at it may be said this way. You pay their bills, they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear. You’re just another one who came here, buying a piece of your paradise and now you’re an expert! How about every house has a pool, central AC, and enough PV’s to support their homes, just like you. That would be really so nice, KIUC can now raise the rates and no one will pay a cent to KIUC because we’ve all got PV’s. Raise county taxes, electricity and fuel. OK.

Your last paragraph hypocrisy! You came here 2 years ago, and now this island is getting really crowded, and you want to keep it local! Wow, Mr. PhD! All the brains with no common sense, a lot of dollars, who i guess can buy sense.

Everyone’s grumbling about cutting taxes and you’re agreeing to raise taxes, $2 taxes for gas, highest fuel charges with California in the nation! Sounds like you’re pulling our leg. It has to be!

We all help Mother Nature take care of this island, we’re not the boss or owners of this island, we’re just care takers until we move off this island or die. As other commenter’s said, (with using different words) Kauai’s economy is very complex, and having simple answers to resolving issues or finding balance won’t be solved over night.

One can really find the truth when you look at the issues from every angle possible. Being fair and responsible to ALL of Kauai, that’s what we all should look for.

Good article Joan, a lot of hits on this 09/24's post.