Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Musings: No Pay Dirt

Many years ago, I wanted out of a lease and felt my landlord shouldn't be unhappy because I'd lined up a new tenant so he wouldn't lose any rent. But as he told me, “It isn't always and only about the money.”

Truer words were never spoken, and they've certainly guided my life and career decisions.

Yet to hear the anti-GMO activists talk, it's always and only about the money. As in, anyone who speaks in favor of GMOs, and/or questions the antics of the anti-GMO crowd, is in the pay of the agrochemical industry.

Just yesterday, Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff used the comment section of Civil Beat to maliciously lodge that baseless claim against Dr. Harold Keyser, whowrites so eloquently and informatively about pesticides and GMOs. Harold is retired from the UH, and gets no money from industry. But he often corrects misinformation when he sees it, which makes him a threat — and thus a shill — to die-hard ideologues like Paul.

Councilman Gary Hooser often uses that accusation to try and discredit me, since he'd love to have me stop calling him on his bullshit. Just the other day, he left a comment on his Facebook campaign page — which falsely lists me as one of his supporters — referencing me as “a notorious local blogger who is paid by the industry and whose blog is rife with lies, rumor and innuendo.”

This was followed by the semi-literate Celeste Harvel bleeting: “well she is paid handsomely by filthy corporations! old saying she has sold her soul” — a comment that Gary liked.

In truth, I'm still in full possession of my soul. I don't get any money from the agrochemical industry, and no one pays me to write this blog. As I have publicly stated previously, I do write for the Cornell Alliance for Science, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and focuses on public sector biotech work. We get no money from industry, but sometimes our paths do cross, as in the case of the transgenic papaya. Though it was developed by public sector scientists from Cornell University and UH, it used some technology owned by Monsanto, which released the patent to keep seeds low-cost for farmers.

I began speaking up on behalf of the seed companies primarily because I was appalled at the way their employees were being treated by members of this community. It sickened me to hear ignorant people accusing the workers of poisoning their neighbors and the land. I recall letters to the editor from people saying they didn't even want to stand next to field workers in Waimea Big-Save for fear of being contaminated with poisons and GMOs.

The witch hunt mentality totally turned me off, and as I began looking into how the seed companies operated, and how GMOs actually function, I came to understand the depth and breadth of misinformation that has been willfully spread about both the technology and the industry's activities in Hawaii.

Though it's easy to rally folks against the chemical corporate bogeyman, these companies are staffed by real people with real feelings — many of them locals — who send their kids to the same schools and enjoy the same natural resources as anyone else. They have no interest in fouling their nest, even for a paycheck.

But invariably, they've been demonized and dismissed as lackeys, stooges, pawns of their employers or, worse, patronized as those poor ignorant brown folk:
Most recently, Gary and others have directed this enmity toward Sarah Styan and Gerardo Rojas, the two seed company employees who volunteered their time to serve on the Joint Fact Finding Group, but resigned due to concerns about the process:
Meanwhile an anonymous commenter enjoined: "They'll be rewarded handsomely for their loyalty."

It's apparently inconceivable to the antis that Sarah, Gerardo or any of us could be motivated by principles, values, a sense of justice, a love for the truth, a hatred for propaganda and fear-mongering. It's not always and only about money — even for the antis. Though I have documented that groups like HAPA, Center for Food Safety, Hawaii SEED and Earthjustice profit from fanning the flames around GMOs — most recently under the guise of pesticide protection — I'm sure that many in the rank and file are motivated by their own ideals, and not cash.

The ever-addled Felicia Cowden, who disseminates so much misinformation on KKCR, which has never reported accurately about GMOs, recently weighed in on the resignations and JFFG recommendations:

The implementation of these recommendations is likely to destroy the remaining profitability of these companies, thus the jobs of their employees. Their markets are drying up, as well. I get that the whole experience is difficult and demoralizing for the staff of these companies. My suggestion is to shift their business strategy to a more life-affirming method of growing plants. It can be done and would be welcomed by the world. They could be heroes. I encourage that transition. All of us would thrive as a team.

No, what's difficult and demoralizing is having people like Gary, Marghee, Fern and Felicia, none of whom know anything about agriculture, weigh in so heavily about what farmers should and shouldn't do.

Though their regulatory efforts are currently directed at the seed companies, we're already hearing calls for pesticide disclosure from the taro farmers, and soon other small farmers who cannot afford more regulations will be called to task for their operations — even when they are operating legally in agriculturally-zoned lands, as the seed companies are. These recommendations may seem benign on surface, or just desserts for those dirty, genocidal chem companies. But they have far-reaching implications for all farmers at a time when Hawaii ag is already on the ropes.

And while I like and respect Peter Adler, who facilitated the JFFG, I was concerned when I read this comment from him in today's paper:

Adler pointed out “much has already been accomplished,” by the preliminary draft. Monday, a house bill relating to the state agricultural budget included a $500,000 readjustment in the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s 2016-2017 budget.

The recommendation suggests the money, in general funds, be used to “address concerns related to pesticide use,” according to the bill. The funds would be used to increase pesticide regulations and to strengthen data collection, as well as establish new standards for chronic, low-level exposure to pesticides.

In my opinion, the facilitator shouldn't be invested in the outcome, or deliver judgments on the effect of the recommendations, particularly at the draft stage. It's his job to shepherd the group to create a factual, impartial report that the community can use to inform its next steps.

I'm quite certain Peter came into this project wanting to do the right thing for the community, and I know he's not motivated by the money. But I think he did underestimate the very low road that some people are willing to take to advance the anti-GMO platform, and thus themselves. Those of us on the front lines have been experiencing the ugliness of that dynamic for a few years now. As one commenter so astutely observed on yesterday's post:

Trying to work with social justice warriors on the new left is like trying to wash your hands with crap.

I'm still hoping Peter can pull a rabbit out of a hat and turn this process around so that it isn't totally co-opted by the likes of Hooser and Achitoff. Because many of us deeply care about our communities, and we don't want these folks to set the moral tone.

And no, we're not getting paid to say that. It isn't always, and only, about the money.


Anonymous said...

Another example of your clear, frank, witty, and well-researched perspective and writing that has endeared you to so many.
Thank you.

ekcoll said...

"It's apparently inconceivable to the antis that Sarah, Gerardo or any of us could be motivated by principles, values, a sense of justice, a love for the truth, a hatred for propaganda and fear-mongering. "

You assert you (and others) have "a hatred of propaganda" so it would follows that your blog would be propaganda free. Do you really think your blog is propaganda free since you hate propaganda so much?

Anonymous said...

Smart of you to have a fake Facebook account so you can lurk on Hoosers fb stuff. Do you go through his pictures and check out his family too? Creepy. Like you are cyber stalking.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm confused. The JFF basically said there is inadequate data to draw conclusions and based on mounting concerns in the medical and international community regarding pesticides, they are asking for more environmental testing. Flint Michigan made the mistake of skipping the testing and look where they ended up. What is the harm in doing further testing and sampling given that the existing Kauai data is inadequate and there is pretty compelling data from other sources that pesticides are more toxic than we originally thought? That seems like a win/win for both sides. Either there are no toxins and there are no issues or there are and then the community makes a plan to address them. We are talking about human health and strong existing recommendations in the medical literature, why wouldn't we want extensive reassurance that our community is being adequately protected?

Joan Conrow said...

Yes, Ed, I do.

And no, 10:55, I don't have any fake Facebook accounts nor any interest in lurking in the Hoos' accounts. lol!! People send me things. And as I noted, I'm falsely listed as a supporter of his campaign so I could freely view that page.

Anonymous said...

Poor uneducated brown people of the westside. Unbelievable! Guess they should be fearful if anyone of that color has anything to do with a missile launch at PMRF? Let's see how they feel come Primary election when the poor uneducated people send a message in the polls.

I would think the brown people of Anahola/Kapaa/Lihue should also stand up and remember these comments as well when they come knocking on your door for support.

What these candidates should know about us "brown people". We have big hearts filled with Aloha. We might forgive. Trust me, we don't forget!

Anonymous said...

Might as well face it. The island will be controlled by the Fistees before you know it.
New arrivals are quick to vote and most have anti-GMO, Business, anti-big Ag ideas. Y'know drawbridge syndrome combined with "those poor locals really don't know as much as we know" syndrome.
It is important to keep your friends and neighbors aware that a vote for Da Hoos, Mason or JoAnn is a nail in the agriculture coffin. These three have no respect for the Kauai's past.
They are against local housing, Ag, PMRF and most businesses. They are for expensive Bike lanes, high rents, cramped local housing, boutique Ag estate farms and all of the latest fads.
Kauai's direction will be decided this election. There will be big money spent to keep Da Hoos and Mason in office. Big money. Da Hoos is already pandering to his old friends and especially to the entrenched big moneyed anti-Ag mainland activists.
There will be several mini-Fistees running this year. But the big 3 are Mason, JoAnn and Da Hoos.
These three will continue to decimate local style, invite big-mouthed rich newcomers as their advisers and muzzle local style. A real Kauai Hollywood (Haolewood?).
We deserve the government we elect.

And JOAN, please don't protect your self. Whether people agree or disagree with you, you are perceived as a highly intelligent lady, truthful to your convictions, strong, honest and a fine writer....what more could a person want?

Da Hoos' Fistees love to disparage you, but in the end, when the Big Ag issue has been settled and they remember what you have done for the Left-wing Pinko Nutjobs in the past, and the fact that you will be one of the few sane ones in far-left, Commie-pinko situations of the future, they will all flock to love you. IE. TVRs, Bees, Shoreline protection, Public trails, Taro, government corruption will once again be the paragon of virtue for all of the Hooserites.
Amazing how their hatred comes out for just one issue.

Anonymous said...

11:10 AM, lots of testing was done by the antis, and they couldn't prove anything so they stopped talking about it. Please note, they are interested only in getting something on ag, totally ignoring resort, golf course, and pest control companies - which use more RUPs than ag.

12:15 PM, I heard an ag-bashing discussion on KKCR during which it was decided to go to the westside and heal the poor locals by teaching them how to farm. (Fortunately, I was able to maintain control of my car.) I tried to listen to Felicia's show a couple of times to see what the North Shore was planning for the rest of us, but the condescension towards everyone not them and the constant spewing of lies about modern ag were too much for me.

I did remember at election time. Felicia approached my family with her campaign ads. I told her we knew who she was and leave us alone. She grabbed me when I turned away, but quickly backed off when my family and I told her to keep her hands off me.

Looking forward to more council cleaning this November!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you are confused, 11:10; I certainly am. We have witnessed a circus on the facts from the get go on the presence of rampant disease, birth defects, cancer clusters, poisoned drinking water, foul air, soil, etc. on the west side from the red shirts starting with the sponsors of 2491: strenuous, certain, aggrieved, even shrieking and dismissive of contrary findings. Pass the Bill NOW! And now, their JFFG comes up with a huge whimpering not so very much of anything, but covers its collective red shirted ass with calls for more testing. I mean really, do you think these people celebrated the outstandingly clean report on Kauai drinking water last Monday? Not a chance. It's not their party line even though all of those transplants have probably never had better water in their lives. How much of this do you think the rest of us have to tolerate? And why do you think we should take it any longer? And your "win-win" is bullshit when someone else has to pick up the tab for your endless speculating. You cried wolf one too many times, and come September, it's time to clean our political house.

Anonymous said...

The JFF may have insinuated that "there is [sic] inadequate data to draw conclusions", but that reveals their bias and ignorance of the scientific method. The reality is that there is plenty of data, they just do not support the narrative of the anti-seed company crowd. Claims - by JFF members and other commentators - that more data will inevitably show guilt, fail to understand that more data will most likely further support the data that we already have. And that data supports a conclusion that there is no adverse affect to human health or the environment by from the seed companies.

Unknown said...

Program Note Joan. There is a great show on tonight explaining how companies develop, and test, drugs on humans.

Anonymous said...

Earthjustice suing the EPA for failing to curb airplane pollution. Will the Hooz start going after United Airlines or is his wife's employer off limits?

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone on this thread that making up facts and distorting information is the wrong way to go. So, let's stick to facts and not confuse the JFF members with every person affiliated with 2491. Did you attend the community meeting? I specifically heard Dr. Evslin repeatedly say that the water got a clean report. Fabulous -- environmental testing showed that we do not need to be concerned. It was mentioned at least twice. Did you look at the report? There are really small sample sizes and missing data. We clearly need more testing -- Adam Asquith made the strong point at the community meeting that with such a small population we would have trouble showing that DDT, second hand smoke and/or asbestos are dangerous (and yet we clearly know they are, based on larger aggregate data). We need to know what we have in the environment and may need to depend on larger scale studies to let us know whether those pesticides are safe or unsafe. And at this point, there is enormous debate in the medical and scientific community -- with much of the research raising new concerns. Of course we need to know what is in our environment, that allows for good science. And it was repeatedly mentioned at the community meeting that the seed companies and Kauai coffee are not the only pesticide users, so these recommendations have a broader application as well.

Allan Parachini said...

I have tried to refrain from going too far into this, b ut let me share a couple of observations:

1) The JFFG report would only be credible to the community if, when it's finished, it is signed off on by all nine members. That is not going to happen. Whether this favors or disfavors my perspective on these issues is irrelevant. I would live with any report that is the agreed upon consensus of nine people.
2) As much as I had hoped this would not occur, the fact that three of the nine original members walked away from the project dooms it in terms of credibility of public policy import. It would not matter if these were three people I did or did not agree with.
3) We have spent a lot of public money on a project that initially had great promise to address and defuse many of the horrible divisions in our community that have grown out of this entire dispute. Absent some miraculous intervention, that money has been THROWN DOWN THE RAT HOLE.

Who can possibly think this is what should have happened with the JFFG?

Anonymous said...

What a waste of money. They could have improved facilities with that. Shame on Marghee Maupin and Fern "whatever" to call westside people desperate local people with limited education and brown, lower income. Give me a can we stand for that kind of characterization of our westside community. People "wake up", these are a bunch of crazies. Meanwhile word has gone around that these same wacko's are harassing the Hanalei taro farmers, by plastering No GMO signs all over and plugging up their water sources with heavy pipes. This needs to stop. Help "LEADERS" (whoever you might be)...HELP!!!

Anonymous said...

F$&@ the public corruption on Kauai!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I was at the meeting and, yes, I read the entire report, including the appendices. I specifically heard Dr. Evslin lie: he said “when we met with the EPA” when, in fact, they never did. I read, throughout the report, constant attempts to insinuate that there were adverse impacts, even though the data do not support that conclusion. I hear now – in your comment and in others’ – an orchestrated campaign to waive away the failure to find adverse impacts as being due to “small sample size”. Bullshit. You can adjust for small sample sizes just as you can and SHOULD adjust for socio-economic factors when studying human populations. The JFFG did neither. This is why they should have engaged real subject matter experts, which they also refused to do. Similarly, you and they are also trying to spin the failure to find adverse impacts as being due to a lack of data. Bullshit. As an earlier commentator pointed out, there are data that speak to this topic, they just don’t support the anti-seed company narrative. This whole “movement” is more about social standing at the next Northshore cocktail party than it is about genuine concern about the health and well-being of residents of the Westside.

During the 2491 debacle, we were told – assured – that there were strong data showing terrible adverse impacts to the people of the Westside. So where are those data?! Now, all we hear are incoherent excuses using dilettantish arguments as to why these data are unavailable. The hubris, condescension, and smug self-righteousness of this fraudulent fiasco is disgusting.

Anonymous said...


I was at the meeting. Lee Evslin did not emphasize that the water was clean. He emphasized that the testing was done and quietly and quickly mentioned that it came back clean, but that that somehow really just justified even more testing.

He then went on to try to imply with a straight face that pesticide drift might be the cause of the obesity and diabetes incidences on the west side. I struggled not to laugh out loud at that point.

Adam's comments were asinine, self-contradictory, and simplistic to the point of being incorrect. He stated that the population of the west side was too small to show any significant correlation or causation. If that were the case (it isn't--only perhaps too small to show extremely small effects), then by his own argument gathering better health data on the west side would be pointless due to the insufficient size of the population. As you pointed out, and he even mentioned, this would logically lead us to rely on other, larger-scale studies--except he and the other remaining members of the JFFG argued that all of the US EPA, EU, and UN studies that validate the safety of the products in question should not be included because they somehow do not pertain to West Kauai--and besides, Louisa Wooton does not trust the EPA or other government regulators, so that should be sufficient reason to exclude those studies, but let's include an amateur, unverified google map some dude threw together noting supposed dead owls he found on his spare time in the appendix because that's all obviously the fault of the seed companies.

Anyway, so yes, if you declare that it would be impossible to collect a sufficiently large local dataset to address your concerns, and then exclude all sufficiently large datasets that do not validate your fears (which in this case is all of them), then "there just isn't enough data". The answer then is obviously to intensely gather local data at great taxpayer expense even though they just !@$! told you 5 minutes ago that the local population is too small to prove any correlation.

I could respect them if they were up-front and honest about not having been able to find anything, but still being concerned and still believing that further testing was warranted.

Lay out the stark facts and your suggestions, and respect the people to make an informed decision at that point.

Instead it was all mealy-mouthed speculation, hypocrisy and self-contradiction in an attempt to leverage fear to back us into a corner to make the decisions they want us to make.

Now that that has been exposed for what it is, the report will likely be flushed down the proverbial toilet while going through the standard face-saving motions, and then the department of ag and the county are back where they started regarding how to address the community's concerns (now 1 year later and with $175k less than they had before).

Hopefully the seed companies realize that irrespective of the disingenuous fearmongering activities undertaken by the fistees, fighting them on principle is besides the point.

Whether for valid reasons or not, the fears and concerns of members of the community are now very real and it is in everyone's best interest to figure out how to address those concerns in a constructive manner. At least then we can all stop tilting at windmills and heal some of the divide in order to focus on some of our very real and very tough problems like ice, the landfill situation, TVRs, infrastructure deficiencies, rising ocean levels, and what to do about all these cats.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

12:27 am - Right on!

Anonymous said...

12:27 -- You've got that right. Because when all this cooked-up, drama queen, faux environmental vigilance recedes into memory, we will still be left with the cats. So hoist your glass, my anonymous friend, and salute the 150th anniversary of our feline fixation. For the anniversary is soon upon is -- a letter published in the Sacramento Union on April 19, 1866 -- when Mark Twain, having set foot in Honolulu, observed: "I saw cats--Tom cats, Mary Ann cats, long-tailed cats, bobtail cats, blind cats, one-eyed cats, walleyed cats, cross-eyed cats, gray cats, black cats, white cats, yellow cats, striped cats, spotted cats, tame cats, wild cats, singed cats, individual cats, groups of cats, platoons of cats, companies of cats, regiments of cats, armies of cats, multitudes of cats, millions of cats, and all of them sleek, fat, lazy, and sound asleep ..."

The cats, Gary, the cats. Focus. Kauai resisted every invasion except one -- the cats. Haoles come and go, but the cats are forever.


Anonymous said...

Used to be "the haoles come and go", but now we go stay ova heah fo'evah.
And we vote JoAnn, Mason, Gary and Fern.

Anonymous said...

Right, because Sarah or Gerardo were not asked and encouraged to "volunteer" for these positions? The seed companies really don't have too many qualified experts on island. Apparently none are experts in pesticides. Who would have been qualified to represent the seed companies if not these two?? Plus I'd be shocked if they didn't see a raise, promotion or bonus for their efforts.

Anonymous said...

7:41. Nothing makes a haole look more like a stupid f'n haole than trying to speak, much less write, pidgin.

7:45 Peter Adler asked Sarah and Gerardo to serve. Where did you ever get the idea that seed companies don't have experts on island or know much about pesticides? They have some of the most highly educated and skilled workers on Kauai. Also, just because you would expect a payoff doesn't mean they gave the same lack of integrity.

Anonymous said...

I remember mel Rapozo telling us we all gonna get sick and die if we banned plastic grocery store bags. No one holds the monopoly on truth.

Anonymous said...

10:05 a.m. Since you remember so well, what was the date he said that?

Anonymous said...

feb 1 2011

Anonymous said...

Haha! It should be no one holds the monopoly on bs.

Anonymous said...

The plastic bag ban is total bullshit. Mel's comments were in regard to reuse of bags over and over and the safety of that and the leaking food juices that could contaminate . Before the bogus ban, I never ever bought a plastic bag , reusing the bags for trash can liners, to bag freshly harvested food from the garden, to bag veggies just bought at The farmers market, and the hundreds of other uses the grocery bags were used for. Now we have to buy bags for Lining the trash can and to put veggies in. Now every time I buy too many groceries for my reusable bags, or forget them in the car, I get a pile of bags that were once trees. Why didn't we allow bags that decompose, Biodegradable bags to be allowed? Now that would have helped reduce the plastic and paper use at the same time.
The compostable recyclables come from the dreaded sugar cane or feared corn crops and have been shown to not break down in normal composting situations, but have made a lot of money for those selling them. We all want to do go, but sometimes the whole picture is not seen and we only think we did good.
Mel was smart to see the failures of banning plastic bags, it is friggin stupid to think you saved anything banning grocery bags, get smart and allow biological bags to be used.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a disconnect, on the one hand, what people think Kauai is verses what it is. It is portrayed as paradise, when it is really just a place with regular problems like education and refuse and lots of overflowing cesspools. No where is perfect.