I've been looking through the draft report of the Joint Fact-Finding Group on pesticides – the one that was supposed to be released on Jan. 6, 2016, and is now being updated and reviewed prior to distribution later this week.
I sure hope that it's gone through some serious revisions, because this first draft has a lot of problems, not the least of which is speculation. But in fact, the entire report is suspect. The group admits it faced numerous challenges in collecting data, due to both medical and corporate “confidentiality barriers:"
"This put the JFF Study Group in the position of trying to gather and piece together disparate sets of data and match those with peer reviewed national and international research.”
In other words, it's a hodgepodge of data patched together with conjecture and speculation, which is evident in the inflammatory language in the executive summary. I don't know who wrote it, but it seems the intent was to elicit a certain response, knowing most people won't bother to read the full report. Because when I looked at the chapters and data that supposedly informed the summary, they didn't support the rhetoric.
The summary does note that less than 25 percent of restricted use pesticides were sold for agricultural uses on Kauai. “The largest users of RUPs are structural fumigators, the Kauai Department of Public Works (for wastewater treatment) and the Kauai Department of Water.” Buried deeper in the report is the revelation that structural fumigators account for 41 percent of total RUPs sold for use on Kauai between 2010-14.
The JFFG found no data at all on even estimated household pesticide use, though "90 percent of Hawaii's reported pesticide poisonings occurred in a residence." So again, why are only the seed companies being scrutinized?
The draft report states:
There is no statistically significant evidence that shows causality between seed company pesticide use and harms to Kauai flora and fauna.
But then it warns of “important signals” that indicate we need to be more attentive to pesticide issues. These "signals" include the unpublished, Surfrider-funded school science fair project on glyphosate residue, and disputed research on neonicotinoid impacts on bees, including references to colony collapse disorder, which has never been found in Hawaii. It also notes, “Several local residents on the westside have reported what they believe may be an unusual number of dead or sick owls.”
Now that's the kind of crap that serves to undermine the already tenuous credibility of this report. Unfortunately, there's way too much of that hocus-pocus in what is supposed to be a survey of evidence.
The report also notes the group looked at 17 environmental sampling studies:
“Many of these revealed the presence of pesticides, some of which may be from contemporary use, others that may come from previous agriculture or migration from other sources such as structural fumigation. Most were in trace amounts and at levels between EPA action standards, with a few important exceptions.”
It then goes on to report that atrazine, metolachlor and chlorpyrifos were found. It's not until some 38 pages later that the actual levels of these "important exceptions" are disclosed: In the Waimea Canyon Middle School air study, the concentration of chlorpyrifos was 24 times lower and the metolachlor level was 650 times lower than California's subchronic level of concern for these two chemicals. It's not until page 44 that the water study results are given, indicating that no samples exceeded EPA regulatory standards. One sample taken upstream of the Kikiaola boat harbor detected atrazine at 2 parts per million — above the aquatic bench mark of 1 ppm — and metolachlor at 1.07 ppm, just barely above the aquatic life guideline.
Though I find it questionable that the JFFG even considered Hawaii SEED's totally undocumented drift tests, the group did admit that samples from some 200 tests turned up just one positive result for chlorpyrifos, and it was at a level 13 times below the California sub-chronic level of concern.
Yet still we see these activists and Hooser claiming that chlorpyrifos is poisoning the westside.
Worse, the JFFG cites these extremely low-level findings as indicating “the need for additional monitoring to determine the status of drift from agricultural operations on the westside.”
As for health impacts, the report notes:
“The lack of comprehensive data on human exposure and pesticides in Kauai's environment makes determining causality between seed company pesticide use and human harms virtually impossible at this time.”
Then it goes astray, talking about how “low level but continuous exposure to pesticides can result in a variety of medical conditions” — without ever documenting that folks are a) subject to chronic pesticide exposure and b) that such exposure is from current ag operations. Sadly, the lack of data doesn't stop the group from throwing out a smear: “Some of the health statistics of Kauai's westside are among the worst in the state. The JFF Study Group cannot determine the exact reason why, and so cannot eliminate pesticide exposure as a possible co-factor.”
As an example of its tortured attempts to blame seed companies for health problems, the report references “growing evidence” that toxic substances in the environment can contribute to obesity and diabetes. It then notes that westsiders have a high rate of diabetes and obesity. Well, it also has a large Native Hawaiian population, which has disproportionately high rates of obesity and diabetes.
The report also shows that westsiders have a higher rate of admissions for bacterial pneumonia. Only later does it reveal that it has the highest rate of smokers in the county.
Reading through the health chapter, it's like they identified health problems that may be associated with pesticide exposure, and then tried to find health stats for the westside that fit those ailments. Mo bettah would have been to simply report what is known, and avoid drawing any conclusions, since the panel had neither the expertise nor the data to do anything else. Let's hope they stick to the straight and narrow in the final report.
When I began to drill down into specific findings, I found several that disputed claims made by anti-GMO activists. For example, the oft-repeated claim by Paul Koberstein – who was paid by anti-GMO groups to write stories — that Kauai seed crops use 10 times more pesticides than mainland crops, as well as Center for Food Safety's claim that seed companies use 17 times the rate of of restricted use ingredients as mainland corn farmers.
The report notes:
"There is substantial variability between estimates of RUP application by acre for corn on Kauai. This makes reliable comparisons with … mainland field corn problematic. Kauai seed companies appear to be applying roughly 0.8 to 1.7 times the amounts of different herbicides and roughly 1 to 3 times the amounts of different insecticides per acres. However, these estimates are based on GNP [good neighbor program] data for acreages, which not be sufficiently accurate for deriving precise rates. Also, the ability to grow up to three crops per acre per year on Kauai compared to one per year on the mainland makes this comparison less exact.”
So the 10 times rate is disproven outright, and the CFS 17 times figure is specifically discounted in the report as relying on assumptions. Meanwhile, if you consider three Kauai crops may be grown for every one on the mainland, then the local application figures are either comparable to mainland application rates, or less.
Also debunked was Councilman's Gary Hooser's perennial lie that the seed companies alone are using 18 tons of pesticides per year. Actually, that is the amount of total formulation, which includes inert ingredients, such as water, used over the 20-month period between December 2013 to July 2015. The seed companies and Kauai Coffee applied 7.5 tons of active ingredients – and that includes organic pesticides and substances like clay — over that same 20-month period.
I found it very curious that the JFFG chose to use that particular 20-month period, as opposed to all of 2014 or July 2014 to July 2015. Was that period selected to give a token nod to Gary's bogus allegation? Still, now that Gary's lie has been outed, hopefully he'll start telling the truth.
Also revealed as total bullshit is the Hooser and activist claim that the companies are “experimenting” with new pesticides on Kauai. Of the six experimental pesticide use permits that the EPA issued to seed companies between 2010 and 2014, five were for “plant incorporated protectants,” such as Bt corn. The only exception was a permit issued to Syngenta to test Callisto, an already approved pesticide, on soybeans.
Like I said, I can only hope that the group sticks to the facts and published studies, and avoids conjecture and speculation when it issues its final report.
Because perhaps most noteworthy is this conclusion:
This report in no way infers that a different approach to using agricultural pesticides in the future will somehow restore the island to pristine environmental or human health conditions