A friend texted a link early this
morning with the comment:
Tripe in an otherwise usually
responsible news source.
The otherwise usually responsible news
source is the The Guardian. The tripe is Christopher Pala's hit piece, “Pesticides in paradise: Hawaii's spike in birth defects put
focus on GM crops.”
Gosh, I thought. Has the state finished
updating its birth defect study and found there really has been a
Nope. There is still absolutely no
evidence of a spike in birth defects. Pala opens with horrific
anecdotal stories about birth defects and sick babies, but never
bothers to check with the Hawaii Department of Health or federal
officials to confirm or deny his report.
Pala also makes no mention of the
public statement issued by westside ob/gym Dr. Graham Chelius to quell the speculation:
There is not
an increased rate of cardiac defects of any kind on the Westside of
Pala suggests the Aloha Aina March in
Waikiki Aug. 9 was an anti-GMO march, when it was clearly dominated
by sovereignty and anti-TMT activists.
Pala claims Waimea supports its economy
on tourism, when PMRF and the seed companies are the largest
employers in the area. He says that perhaps 200 people work full time
for the “chemical companies” on Kauai when the actual number is about 400, and
He says the companies “spray 17 times
more pesticide per acre (mostly herbicides, along with insecticides
and fungicides) than on ordinary cornfields in the US mainland.”
Actually, he got this from the Center for Food Safety — hardly an
impartial source — and even then mischaracterizes the source’s
assertion (it only refers to restricted use pesticides, not all
pesticides). Pala also fails to mention that even CFS admits the use
is less than three ounces per acre per year.
Pala uses the oft-discredited Gary
Hooser claim that the seed companies applied 18 tons of restricted
use pesticides in 2012, when Bill 2491 itself states the seed
companies and Kauai Coffee together used 5,477.2 pounds, and 5,884.5
gallons of RUP for 2012. Disclosures under the Good Neighbor Program
show they used 5.15 tons in 2014.
He also falsely claims that the
pesticides used are “mostly atrazine, paraquat (both banned in
Europe) and chlorpyrifos.” A purview of the Good Neighbor Data
indicates otherwise; and in fact, it's Kauai Coffee that's using the
Pala blames seed companies for people
with respiratory symptoms who sought medical treatment in Waimea, but
never mentions that the state Department of Health conducted an
extensive study and issued a report that found the cause—and it
He also falsely claims that both
cultivated and fallow lands are “sprayed frequently, sometimes
every couple of days,” because the companies need “sterile land,”
which is ridiculous. They want fertile land, which will give them
healthy crops that produce healthy, viable seed. Much of their
fallow land is in cover crops, subleased as pasture or just let go
Pala repeatedly asserts that the
companies don't disclose their pesticide use when they clearly do, with the
data — type and quantity applied, active ingredient and parcel size
— all reported monthly on the Good Neighbor website.
He also claimed they don't give any
pre-notification, when in fact they offered every resident within
1,000 feet of their fields an opportunity for pre-spraying
notification. Only a few residents requested such notification. All
schools and hospitals within 1,000 feet of their fields are given
pre-notification of pesticide applications.
Pala talks about “three years of
failed attempts to force the companies…to create buffer zones,”
without mentioning that the companies do so voluntarily. Under the
Good Neighbor program, they agreed to provide at least 100-foot
buffer zones, with Syngenta maintaining a 1,700-foot buffer zone
between its fields and Waimea Canyon Middle School.
One of Pala's biggest whoppers was the
contention that “the amounts and toxicities of pesticides were much
lower” in the days of sugar plantations. Many of the chemicals used
decades ago on the plantations have been banned because of their
toxicity, like DDT, and some plantation sites are brownfields or Superfund
Pala quotes Gary Hooser as saying the
companies don't pay excise taxes, when of course they pay them just
like everyone else on every product they buy in Hawaii.
Pala also writes that “local schools have
been evacuated twice due to pesticide use” when a state Department of Agriculture study found not one case of school evacuations in all
of Hawaii has been caused by agricultural pesticide applications. The two evacuations on Kauai were due to a homeowners' misuse of
Pala also badly bungled his reporting
about the Joint Fact Finding Group and mischaracterized Dr. Lee's Evslin's work,
prompting JFFG facilitator Peter Adler to issue this statement:
His piece will surely circulate widely on Kauai and elsewhere in
the state where people are keenly interested in GM agricultural
issues. Whatever the respective merits of the rest of his piece may
be, however, the article had several unfortunate mistakes and
some important omissions that need a response. This is being sent to
and to other writers and journalists who are following the work of
Joint Fact Finding Study Group is not a “commission”. It is a
special fact-finding group composed of Kauai citizens who have
different sets of technical, medical and scientific expertise and who
volunteered to do the very hard work of thoroughly examining as much
available factual evidence as is possible during a year long project.
Both the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture and the Office
of the Mayor, County of Kauai, jointly fund the project.
important, the article misconstrues and conflates statements made at
a meeting with some Waimea residents on August 6th
by Dr. Lee Evslin, one of the nine members of the Study Group, and
myself. I stated that the job of the JFF group is to gather together
the best available factual information about the seed company’s
agricultural and pesticide footprints and any possible evidence of
human or environmental health harms. In that context, I explained
that we have not yet concluded our work, are not yet ready to issue
findings or opinions, and are not conducting “original research”.
Pala then wrote: “Lee
Evslin, plans to do just that. “I want see if any health trends
stand out among people that might have been exposed to pesticides,”
he says in an interview. “It won’t be a full epidemiological
study, but it will probably be more complete than anything that’s
been done before.”
juxtaposed in Chris Pala's article, this muddied the definition of
“original research” and made it appear as if Dr. Evslin is
conducting research in opposition to the JFF group. Nothing could be
farther from the truth. In fact (and this point was made clear to Mr.
Pala by Dr. Evslin), the JFF group is very much on the same page and
working together. All data collection efforts, examinations, and
analyses are coordinated through the Study Group and a part of the
broader mandate to look at critical pesticide use patterns
and possible health and environment implications.
clarify: the Study Group is a neutral forum and remains apolitical
and committed to the discovery process that will lead to greater
factual clarity in the sometimes difficult debates over pesticide use
on Kauai. It should be obvious that part of our mandate is to
look at health trends, including birth defects data, which we are
no part of Pala's story is accurate. It is a one-sided hit piece, top
to bottom, without even the hint of an attempt at balance.
contacted his editor at The Guardian, Nicole Flatow, and pointed out
just a few of Pala's errors. Her response:
gone over each of the points you raise with the writer and haven't
identified inaccuracies that merit a correction. However, we are
always grateful for feedback and will keep your perspective in mind
moving forward. Quite an interesting issue.
Yes, it is an interesting issue. Sadly, The Guardian has done its readers a terrible disservice by presenting a deeply flawed report of it — and failing to retract the article, or even issue a correction, when its many errors were pointed out.
Just a little something to keep in mind next time you peruse The Guardian or see a piece by Christopher Pala.