Monday, March 28, 2016

Musings: Improper Influence

Though the Joint Fact Finding Group was supposed to be independent as it evaluated agricultural pesticide use on Kauai, its final report and recommendations were unduly influenced by anti-GMO/anti-pesticide activists.

Their influence includes reviewing scientific reports, serving as consultants to the JFFG, providing the JFFG with unpublished studies and even crafting language for the report. To wit:

Three of the four persons selected to serve as “Liaisons and Resources” to the JFFG are anti-GMO/anti-pesticide activists, yet they are never identified in the report as such. 

They include: Carl Berg, who is president of Surfrider, one of the groups that is appealing the judge's decision on Bill 2491/Ordinance 960; Milt Clark, a part-time Princeville resident who penned letters to the editor opposing pesticides and supporting Ordinance 960; and Malia Nobriga-Olivera, who signed on to an anti-GMO seafood campaign run by Friends of the Earth.

Berg also provided the JFFG with Surfrider water sampling reports and data on gylphosate in honey, which the group accepted and cited, even though none of that work has been written up for the rest of us to read, much less published and peer-reviewed.

Clark, meanwhile, was asked to review the state's air sampling study, which concluded the odiferous stinkweed was to blame for sickening students at Waimea Canyon Middle School. Clark claimed the symptoms were “far more likely related to pesticide exposures than from exposure to stinkweed organics,” which is not surprising, given his anti-pesticide bias. Yet despite that bias, his review is listed in the JFFG report appendix as “Independent Commentary on Pesticide Analysis Study.” Indeed, he specifically asked that it be appended to the JFFG report, and they obliged.

Really? They couldn't find any “liaisons and resources” who didn't have dogs in the fight? Who chose these people for these roles? And what other influence did they exert that isn't specifically outlined in the report?

The JFFG report also noted: “Several local residents on the Westside have reported what they believe may be an unusual number of dead or sick owls but no samples of blood or tissues for pesticide residues appear to have been taken to date.” It then cited a “Map of Dead or Injured Owls found on the Westside” for this unsubstantiated, anecdotal finding, with no mention that the man who provided it, Howard Hurst, is one of the WCMS teachers who has been actively fighting the seed companies.

Similarly, the group accepted data from pesticide “drift catcher” samples collected by the anti-GMO/anti-pesticide groups Hawaii SEED and Pesticide Action Network. Again, these findings have not been written up for public review, much less published. Yet the JFFG not only accepted a verbal account of the sampling, it cited one result of this totally unscientific effort as “indicat[ing] the need for additional monitoring to determine the status of drift from agricultural operations in the Westside.”

And as I've previously reported, the JFFG report references the honey in glyphosate study, which again we can't review because it hasn't been written up or published, without mentioning it was funded by Surfrider.

Meanwhile, language taken nearly verbatim from a June 18, 2015 intent to sue letter filed by the Center for Food Safety — one of the groups appealing the ruling on Ordinance 960 — and the Center for Biological Diversity is included in the appendix to bolster the report's findings on atrazine. It presents as fact conclusions drawn by these two anti-GMO groups, and never references the letter as the source:

2. Surface Waters and Aquatic Ecosystems
Atrazine is now known to be a highly potent endocrine disruptor and persists in the environment after its use. Extensive scientific research has demonstrated that atrazine causes substantial negative reproductive effects in a variety of taxa when exposure occurs, even at concentrations as low as 0.1 ppb. Impairing reproduction through endocrine disruption, lowering reproductive output, chemical castration, disrupting development and immunosuppresion are among the types of harms that atrazine causes, all of which represent significant sublethal effects not considered by the EPA.

If the shoe were on the other foot, and seed company supporters had similarly influenced the report and its recommendations, the activists would be screaming bloody murder. But since it's them doing the manipulating, it's no problem. Indeed, they're using the dirty data to bolster their claim that the report vindicates all their fear-mongering.

We were all waiting for the JFFG report to shed some light on the true situation regarding agricultural pesticides on Kauai. Instead, we've gotten a document that is long on bias and speculation and short on impartiality and facts.


Anonymous said...

What a waste of money. Also disappointed in Peter Adler and wonder if he just lost control of the fact that the report needs to be independent to be valid and the research was supposed to have been done independently to be valid or was this just the predetermined outcome. How many of the people on the committee had no chance of changing their mind? Some of us would like to know the truth about all this. Meanwhile the house next door is getting tented with RUP's, are only RUP's used by the chem companies toxic, or are the rest just as toxic? Could someone please do some explainin? What about Roy, is this why he left or is their more?

Anonymous said...

Joan, couldn't it be that these people who you speak negatively about know more than most of us know! The findings and information they have gathered are important as is the biotechs' information and findings. Let us now, weigh all of the information.

Joan Conrow said...

8:52 -- I have no problem with finding experts to provide information. But as I mentioned, couldn't they find people who didn't have dogs in the fight? Surely there are some experts in those fields who haven't taken stands against GMOs and pesticides on Kauai.

And yes, "Let us now, weigh all of the information" with full awareness of the biases inherent within it.

Anonymous said...

8:52 how is plagiarizing "gathering the facts"? Nor just regurgitating talking points?

Anonymous said...

So Joan should you have been considered given your pro-GMO basis?

Joan Conrow said...

10:12 What part of my answer to 8:52 didn't you understand?

Anonymous said...

That report should be thrown in the rubbish.

Anonymous said...

Instead, it is already being used by the activists to confirm their propaganda, and they are now laying the groundwork for it to make national headlines and go viral.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps there is improper influence and bias. But if improper influence and bias bother you, please examine whether it exists on the other side of the aisle as well. To point out a few potential biases on the pro-GMO side, the current commissioner for food at the FDA, Michael Taylor, is a former vice-president of Monsanto who also spent seven years as an attorney advising Monsanto on issues such as rGBH, a growth hormone Monsanto had developed for cattle. Guess who ended up writing the rGBH labeling quideline for the FDA? There are at least seven high level directors or commissioners at the FDA who are former -and likely future - high level employees of Monsanto.

Joan Conrow said...

3:19 -- We're talking about the JFFG report on Kauai, not Monsanto or the FDA. So please don't try to deflect attention elsewhere, which is a common tactic among the antis when one hits on the truth.

Anonymous said...

Just like the Tako(octopus). When trouble is at hand it squirts ink to confuse the trouble maker. Similar to changing the subject 101. Always point to the other person "what about that person, he did the same thing, Why am I being punished?"

Anonymous said...

Interesting Joan. Back when it was first formed you described the composition as "It's a pretty good mix, though Louisa is the weak link, seeing as how she took such a rabid position in support of Bill 2491 and lacks a scientific background. Still, I suppose she is the counter to Sarah and Gerardo, who work for the seed companies, but actually do have science backgrounds.". I guess just like the SDOA and the chemical companies who also applauded the start of the JFF, now that you don't like the outcome you reverse your original position and slam the process.

Unknown said...

Astute analysis as usual, great job!

It really is a dumpster fire, and to limit suggestions for improvement to 250 words fits right in with much that is nonsense.

Consider the "environmental sampling studies" on pages 36-38. Studies as yet completed or submitted and never published, anecdotal testimony, and samples gathered but never analyzed are meaningless. This applies to studies #5,6,7,9,14,16 (here, JFF group believes a study has been done!), and 17. These amount to conjecture, not facts or data upon which to draw any conclusions or make any recommendations.

Perhaps the most vertigo-inducing statement is found on page 16, most appropriately, under Caveats: “The work of the JFF Study Group must therefore be viewed as a snapshot of puzzle pieces in time, understanding that the pieces are perpetually in motion, changing their shapes, and may in fact come from different puzzle sets.”

Can you hear gongs, bells and singing bowls softly resonating in the background as you try comprehending that caveat? This, from a fact finding report paid for by taxpayers?

Joan Conrow said...

Yes, 6:15, that was my initial reaction. But that was before they brought in anti-GMO activists as resources and liaisons, and accepted suspect studies prepared by these same advocacy groups. That was before one JFFG member appeared in that propaganda film, Aina, and two others began torturing statistics to try and find some health connection. That was before the one truly objective member quit in disgust. That was before findings and language were put up for a vote, rather than agreed upon by consensus. In short, that was when I still believed it was going to be a good faith effort, rather than a politically motivated charade.

Anonymous said...

You are damn good Joan.

Anonymous said...

So if it had come out in favor of your chemical company friends, (who you like to call by the PR friendly name "seed companies,") you would have been fine with the composition?

Joan Conrow said...

What are you talking about? It did come out in favor of the seed/chemical companies. (Btw, they're both, you know, and on Kauai, they're all about seeds.)

It found no evidence that their operations are harming the people or environment of Kauai. Which is why so many of the recommendations are nonsensical, and offered primarily to assuage the anti-GMO forces both on the JFFG and influencing it.

Anonymous said...

Joan Conrow said... "Btw, they're both, you know, and on Kauai, they're all about seeds."

Well, GMO seeds and pesticide testing. Don't forget the pesticides. And the herbicides. And the chemicals.

Maybe you should start calling them "GMO seed, chemical, herbicide, and pesticide companies" so people don't confuse them with the Burpee seed company.

John Kauai said...

I recall the JFF being described as a way to bring out the issues and to enumerate them so that further action could be recommended. It should have been obvious from the start that their report was never going to make the controversy go away, but was rather intended to get both sides talking to each other about "the next step."

As the report repeatedly points out, there isn't enough data to conclude anything. Hopefully we can agree that scientific pursuit of that data is required unless we would rather through innuendo around. Unfortunately, there are too many cases where supposedly rigidly enforced studies in all areas of science have been exposed as fraud so it is going to be difficult to reach a consensus on how to move forward. The JFF was suppose to hi-light this difficulty, which I think it has. Neither "side" has changed its mind, but there are some suggestions in the JFF on how to move forward.

I surely don't want to throw the JFF out since that will just take us back to where we started.

Joan Conrow said...

7:15 - They don't test any pesticides here, so please quit telling that lie. And about half of what they grow isn't GMO at all, but hybrid seed.

Oh, and since you brought up Burpee:

We do purchase a small number of seeds from the garden seed department of Seminis, a Monsanto subsidiary, and so do our biggest competitors.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that BUrpee was buying GMO seeds from your pals at Monsanto:

Here's Burpee's GMO policy: "we do not sell seed that has been genetically modified (GMO). Burpee has never bought or sold GMO seeds, and we have no intention of doing so in the future."

And Seminis doesn't sell GMO for home gardening. See their website for details.

I don't know what you point is here.

Anonymous said...

To 7:15 AM today:

Oh the CHEMICALS!!!!

Chemical formula for a human:

Joan Conrow said...

@ 9 am

Mmm, I don't actually have any pals at Monsanto.

I know it's challenging, but you just keep thinking. Maybe one day you'll get my point.

Anonymous said...

Aside from the fact that the JFFG, which has stacked anti-GMO traits, made recommendations that are unsupported by the facts they found, it is striking that the recommendations to the County of Kauai were: 1. enumerate chemicals you use on county property and give us notice when you do; and 2. appoint a member to Department of Ag's pesticide review committee. Given that rather limp finding after all the unruly stagy, and baseless hooting about home rule and 2491, should we not send a bill to Mr. Hooser, Mr. Bynum, Mr. Chock for 90% of the cost of their anti-GMO witch hunt with the remainder to be shared MMs Yukimura and Nakamura who were stampeded by the hooligans in the Council Chamber at passage of 2491. The County should move to vacate its appeal at the 9th Circuit to the Hawaii US District Court's judgement invalidating the inane ordinance born of 2491.

Anonymous said...

11:36,you make a lot of sense, especially the part of vacating the appeal. Just think of listening to a physicist, electrical engineer and chemical engineer on GMOS and pesticides. Then add a local marine biologist (don't think he has a PhD) to the mix. We have a big, big problem with all the gullibles and lolos on this island.

Anonymous said...

7:17 John California, the JFF will provide a forum for rigorous consideration, evidence-based debate, and collective fact finding.

The JFF group will not produce original research.

Citations and references on relevant studies, pref. peer-reviewed articles PUBLISHED in major scientific journals. N blah blah that could be linked to pesticides.
The report was all over the place with out GOOD substance.
John want to be K---i. The JFF didn't even follow it's own introduction.
Yes, we back to square 1. Still BSing the silent majotity.
N still dividing the community of Kauai.
NATHING but everything. 100K rolled up to get high on chemicals.

Tomorrow! Hump day! Enjoy it.

BTW, printed all that paper! Sorry Ms tree, I thought it was going to be worth it.