Friday, December 30, 2016

Musings: On Sustainability

Though activists in Hawaii and elsewhere love to bash “industrial agriculture” and claim that conventional and biotech farmers are wantonly poisoning the land, the reality — per usual — is quite different.

A new survey shows that “most U.S. farmers and ranchers believe biotechnology and genetically-modified crops increase crop production efficiency and agricultural sustainability.”

According to a survey by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA):

When asked about the reason for using biotechnology when raising crops, the majority of farmers indicated GMO seeds allow them to minimize pesticide/herbicide usage (87%).

Three quarters (78%) of farmers also expressed being able to engage in advanced farming practices, such as conservation tillage.

Nearly all farmers identified soil health (95%) and precise use of pesticides (94%) as key factors in protecting the environment.

The USFRA conducted its annual study to measure consumer opinions about agriculture, including attitudes toward environmental sustainability, GMOs and technology. Only 11 percent of the consumer respondents had a favorable opinion about GMOs favorable.

Farmers, on the other hand, “believe biotechnology helps raise crops more efficiently, and that the environment and sustainability practices will suffer if GMO technology utilization is reduced in crop production in the future.

A majority of farmers also anticipated increased environmental impacts — including an increased use of water and pesticides — if GMO seeds were no longer available to them.

Let's hope that point is driven home when anti-GMO, non-farming organizations like Malama Kauai and the Kohala Center join real farmers in a Jan. 19 discussion with Hawaii legislators on “creating a sustainable agricultural economy in Hawaii.”

The USFRA concluded:

“The findings of the USFRA Perception Study indicate a lack of understanding among consumers about the beneficial link between GMO technology and sustainability.”

Is that any surprise, given the relentless fear-mongering conducted by organic producers and so-called environmental groups like Sierra Club, Earthjustice, SHAKA, Hawaii SEED, HAPA and the Center for Food Safety?

In other news, the fight over illegal TVRs has taken a dark turn that underscores the big money at stake in this shadow industry. Displaced tenants in San Francisco are now hiring private investigators to prove that they've been illegally evicted to accommodate the more lucrative short term rentals.

In New York, a June study by two non-profits that advocate for affordable housing found that the top 20 neighborhoods for Airbnb listings in Manhattan and Brooklyn had average rent increases almost twice those found in the city as a whole between 2011 and 2015.

No doubt the findings would be similar on Kauai, which this morning had some 300 rentals listed on Airbnb, including rooms in private homes, ohana units, lofts in commercial buildings and other unlicensed short-term rentals.

Meanwhile, folks who are looking for longterm rentals are looking at $1,300/month for a studio in Kapaa town, $2,250 for a 1,250-square-foot house in Kapah, $2,300 for a one-bedroom cottage in Hanalei and $2,150 for an 1,800-square-foot house in Kalaheo.

There's no way these kinds of rents are sustainable for working people on Kauai. 

And so as some activists continue to fire away in their misguided attack on agriculture, Hawaii continues its transition into a haven for the haves as the homeless head for the beach.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Musings: Real and Imagined Dangers

It's good to see that Dr. Lee Evslin generally supports the state's thoughtful approach to dealing with fears about agricultural pesticide exposure that he helped foment.

But Evslin quickly exposes his ignorance, and his bias, when he asserts:

The new good neighbor policy will call for 100-foot buffers but that is not enough for vulnerable places like schools. California is moving toward quarter-mile buffers around its schools. This issue will come up again in this year’s state legislative session.

It is now very clear that in Hawaii, these rules legally are the responsibility of the state (not the county) and the state needs to do what is right. California has led the country in examining the science behind buffer zones and we need to follow their lead.

Actually, California's proposal to ban crop dusting and many other forms of pesticide spraying within a quarter of a mile of schools and child day-care centers during daylight hours has been criticized precisely because it isn't based in science.

Yeah, it's political, arbitrary and driven by some the same self-serving activist groups, like Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), that are pushing similar measures in Hawaii. Except they want a one-mile buffer zone.

If Evslin had taken even 15 minutes to research this issue, he would have found that California's proposal followed an appeals court ruling. The judges found that the EPA acted correctly in refusing to institute uniform buffer zones for all pesticides that are registered for application by ground sprayers, broadcast, or aerial application, and that may cause certain human health effects.

The EPA had rejected PANNA's request for across-the-board buffer zones as unscientific and inefficient and likely to result in a misallocation of EPA resources.

The Circuit Court concluded that “substantial evidence” supports EPA’s decision to deny the requested interim relief, stating that “[t]he record suggests that the risk of exposure to pesticide draft depends on a number of factors, including pesticide toxicity, the method of application, the size of pesticide droplets, and weather conditions.”

The judges wrote:

Therefore, substantial evidence supports the EPA's determination that, as a matter of science and policy, the immediate imposition of interim buffer zones is not an appropriate means of mitigating the risk of children's exposure to pesticide drift.

Too bad Evslin didn't educate himself before pushing his own views under the guise of “science.” But then, he already discredited himself on the Joint Fact Finding Group, where he abandoned science in his tortured attempts to show a connection between westside illnesses like diabetes and alcoholism and pesticide exposure.

Though Evslin, various politicians and anti-GMO groups like Center for Food Safety, PANNA and Babes Against Biotech have tried to portray agricultural pesticide exposure as a serious health concern in Hawaii, they have yet to present any evidence that pesticides used by the seed companies are either drifting from the fields in any meaningful amounts or making anyone sick.

Even the Syngenta field worker exposure case, which Evslin cites as an example of how the feds are cracking down, did not result in anyone being sickened, or even exhibiting symptoms. Several workers were held overnight for observation because they had been eating, drinking and smoking after entering a field where pesticides had been applied, and doctors wanted to be sure they hadn't ingested any toxic materials.

Furthermore, a federal study of drift poisoning carried out in 11 states, including California, which uses far more agricultural pesticides than Hawaii, found that drift poisoning is relatively uncommon:

To our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive report of drift-related pesticide poisoning in the United States. We identified 643 events involving 2,945 illness cases associated with pesticide drift from outdoor agricultural applications during 1998–2006.

So they documented 2,945 illnesses over eight years in 11 states, with aerial applications, which are no longer used in Hawaii, responsible for 39 percent of the events. What's more, the “illness severity was low for most cases (92%).” Nobody died.  Given those figures, what's the likelihood that Hawaii folks are being poisoned by ag pesticide drift? Not very high.

Meanwhile, compare those pesticide stats to the record 52,404 Americans who died from drug overdoses — 80 percent due to misuse of opioids — in 2015. These preventable deaths are now more common than automobile fatalities, gun-inflicted homicides and suicides.

And compare it to the 796 drug poisoning deaths reported in Hawaii between 2010-14, the 743 deaths from falls in that same time period, the 614 motor vehicle fatalties, the 604 suffication deaths, the 385 drownings, the 271 shooting deaths, the 84 poisonings, the 66 deaths from cuts and stabbings, the 32 fatalities from fire and burns.

Yes, as Evslin writes, pesticides “are universally acknowledged as toxic.” But that doesn't mean their agricultural use constitutes a health risk in Hawaii.

It's too bad Evslin didn't use his column to address the very real threats to the health and welfare of Hawaii residents — threats that would better warrant the use of funds and fury now being diverted to manufactured concerns around farm pesticides.

But then, that might have required Evslin to do a tiny bit of research, rather than just present his own biased opinion as fact.

Or since Evslin looks at California as a leader, it's unfortunate he didn't take the opportunity to cite a new report from that state's Department of Pesticide Regulation — the same agency proposing the school buffer zone — to reassure readers that fruits and veggies are safe.

In 2015, the California DPR collected 3,600 samples of more than 145 different fruits and vegetables, organic and conventional, domestically grown and imported fruit and vegetable commodities. The results:

• 39.8% had no pesticide residues detected

• 55.8% had one or more detected pesticide residues less than or equal to established tolerances. As in recent years, the majority of these samples had residues at less (usually much less) than 10% of the tolerance level

• 1.2% had one or more illegal pesticide residues in excess of established tolerances

• 3.1% had one or more illegal residues of pesticides not approved for use on the commodities analyzed

Of the organic produce sampled, 83.5 percent had no pesticide residue, 11.8 percent had pesticide residues at levels allowed by organic standards, 2.4 percent had residue levels not allowed under organic standards but accepted under conventional standards and .6 percent has unacceptable residue standards.

The California assessment mirrors the findings of a similar national study, which found that “overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by the EPA and pose no safety concern."

Friday, December 23, 2016

Musings: Faking It

One of the big news stories of 2016 was the proliferation of fake news — and the willingness of people to accept it.

The Guardian even had a piece on what it is and how to spot it — despite having printed fake news itself.

But though social media is often blamed, it isn't the only culprit. Mainstream media in Hawaii and elsewhere contribute to the proliferation of fake news by unquestioningly reprinting press releases and running commentaries without checking facts.

Which is how we got The Garden Island's story about how Kauai Community Correction Center Warden Neal Wagatsuma “was found not liable on Tuesday of sexual humiliation and discrimination.”

To bolster this totally false contention, the article quoted a press release that had Attorney General Doug Chin as saying:

“The jury verdict exonerates Warden Wagatsuma and the state. This warden made efforts to rehabilitate inmates. The jury recognized this and ruled in his favor.”

Bullshit. Total spin. The only question before the jury was whether Carolyn Ritchie was fired from KCCC because she was a whistle blower, or for legitimate reasons. It decided the latter.

The jury made absolutely no ruling on the validity of the kinky, creepy “shame program” invented by Wagatsuma, who has no mental health training. It issued no verdict on whether the “violent films” that Wagatsuma admitted showing inmates were pornographic, or suitable for screening in a prison setting or effective in “discouraging male inmates from committing rape.”

And I'm willing to bet the barn that those trying to whitewash Wagatsuma's reputation provided TGI with the names of inmates willing to sing his praises. The paper has never demonstrated that it has the initiative to dig up such sources on its own.

The release quoted extensively in the article also falsely claims:

The jury’s verdict disposes all of the plaintiff’s claims against the warden and the state.

Uh, except for the class action suit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is set for oral arguments, and the larger whistle blower case.

The misnamed Hawaii Independent fell linto a similar trap when it relied entirely on a press release from the EPA to “report” on the agency's pesticide complaint against Syngenta. Will Caron dutifully rergugitated the press release without ever noting it was the source of his story.

As a result, Caron repeated details on the physical harm that exposure to chlorpyrifos can cause — without ever noting that none of the field workers actually exhibited or experienced any such symptoms.

Caron failed to report, because he never bothered to contact Syngenta, that the company was in negotiations with EPA on a $1.5 million cash settlement and supplemental environmental programs. When negotiations broke down, the value of the technical violations magically increased from $1.5 million to $4.8 million.

Caron also mistakenly reports that Kauai passed Bill 2491/Ordinance 960 “after a State/County-sponsored Joint Fact Finding (JFF) report did an exhaustive review of existing health and pesticide data.” Wrong. The JFF came out of Ordinance 960.

KHON similarly engaged in false reporting about the complaint, saying that “nearly a dozen workers got sick earlier this year.” In fact, none got sick.

EPA spokesman Dean Higuchi helped perpetuate this fake news by issuing a press release stating that “10 workers were taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.” In fact, the complaint itself states the workers were taken to the hospital "for observation." No one was actually treated.

And none of the reports noted that Earthjustice has been meddling in this incident from the state, continually pushing EPA to do more and take a tougher stance. Is it any surprise the EPA, in response to this pressure and string-pulling, is trying to hit Syngenta with one of the biggest fines ever in an ag-related incident?

It's so sad to discover that the EPA, which is supposed to be about protecting human and environmental health, is merely another political pawn.

One of the biggest perpetrators of fake news is Civil Beat, which regularly spins its own stories and engages in wildly lopsided coverage, while also allowing its “community voice” contributors to tell flat-out lies.

The most recent egregious example is the assault on the recent statewide pesticides initiative piece by Ashley Lukens, who runs the Center for Food Safety. As I've previously reported, Pierre Omidyar funds both Civil Beat and CFS, and Civil Beat has run CFS press releases as news.

In her commentary, Lukens falsely claims:

“We also know of the many schoolchildren sickened in various pesticide drift incidents at Waimea Canyon Middle School, including some sent to the emergency room."

In reality, not one school incident in the entire state has been linked to pesticide use by the seed companies or other farms. Instead, they've been caused by homeowner misuse of easily obtained products.

Ashley also falsely claims:

Children who live or go to school near genetically engineered crop test fields operated by the likes of Monsanto and Dow are at high risk of regular exposure to pesticides drifting onto them from spraying operations.

Chronic exposure is the expected outcome when a company sprays pesticides year-round, two of three days, up to 16 times a day, as is done for example by DuPont on Kauai. Exposure is all the more likely under windy conditions (spray drift) and when it’s still and hot (vapor drift). Although spraying is often officially prohibited under such conditions by on-label warnings, there is abundant evidence that it occurs, and occurs frequently, nonetheless.

But there is no evidence of any drift occurring — not even in tests conducted by the activists themselves, not even by the JFF report that Ashley lauds. Nor has there been any indication that spraying occurs when wind conditions prohibit it. So if there's no drift, there's no risk of either acute or chronic exposure.

Indeed, the state announced plans to step up blood monitoring of field workers — those most likely to be exposed to pesticides. Yet Ashley makes no mention of that in asserting the state is failing to protect those most at risk.

Ashley writes:

According to The Economist, DOA officials think that agri-chemical companies apply pesticides in the state “better than anybody ever has.” Then why, one might ask, have children in Waimea been sickened by pesticide drift from neighboring GE test fields?

Except no children in Waimea have been sickened by pesticide drift from neighboring GE fields. 

I challenge Ashley to produce one speck of evidence to back up her claims.

But she won't. Because she can't. There is no drift. There is no sickening. There is no chronic exposure. Which means Ashley is, per usual, making stuff up.

We know that, and Civil Beat should, too, especially since it likes to claim it's an investigative news source.

So why does Civil Beat allow its contributors to perpetuate fake news?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Musings: Eat It

First, the anti-ag activists complained about Maui sugar, filing numerous smoke complaints, and ultimately a lawsuit, all aimed at shutting down Hawaii's last sugar plantation.

Now that sugar is dead, and HC&S is striving to keep the land in viable ag production, they're complaining about the decision to run cattle on some of the acreage.

In a letter to the editor of Maui News, Stephen Beidner, who variously lists his address as Kula and Paia, writes:

Raising cattle on Maui will foul our air, water and land. Grasses grown to feed the cattle on poisoned sugar cane land will poison the cattle and the humans who consume the final products. Are we going to replace the sugar museum with tours of slaughterhouses?

Surely we can use this precious land for something better, like growing real food: fruits and vegetables.

Oh, yeah. Mo bettah to let the invasive species take over so the albezzia, African tulip trees and guinea grass have to be removed with heavy equipment before the land can be returned to production. Or turn into gentleman's estates, hotels and shops. Because those uses have zero impacts. Ya, right.

Turns out Stephen, a member of the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii, was one of those complaining about the cane smoke and dust. But is he willing to actually get out there and grow the fruits and vegetables he envisions? So much easier to bitch and tell someone else to do it as he tries to impose his own dietary choices on everyone else.

And what's with this claim that the land is “poisoned?” I saw that assertion as well in a comment left by the Maluhia Group — an organization of ignorant teachers and staff sadly involved with educating children at Waimea Canyon Middle School:

Historical and modern agriculture practices have resulted in large areas of Hawaii farm lands unusable for food production.

Like where? Shoots, even the Moloaa land that grew chem-intensive pineapple is now being used for organic farms.

The Maluhia Group comment was left on an article promoting a $45 book from University of Hawaii Press: “Food and Power in Hawai‘i: Visions of Food Democracy.” Unfortunately, the catalog doesn't disclose who wrote the nine essays that comprise the book.

But a few things in the press release about the book did catch my eye:

While it is important for farms to maintain economic viability, the value of agriculture in Hawai‘i goes beyond its economic contribution as it provides opportunities for people to engage in food citizenship.

What is food citizenship? Here is the definition provided under this image:
The term Food Citizenship is defined as “engaging in food related behaviors that support, rather than threaten, the development of a democratic, socially and economically just, and environmentally sustainable food system”.

Or as the book's editor, Krisnawati Suryanata, puts it:

The concept is how to broaden public participation in reshaping our own agriculture system.

OK, that explains why so many people are so keen to weigh in on how agriculture is conducted in the Islands. But like so many other purely academic discussions, it fails to address such nitty-gritty practicalities as who is going to actually get their hands dirty? 

And should people who don't know WTF they're talking about — people who believe applying salt to the land is a good way to control weeds, people who can see no reason why everything shouldn't be produced organically, though they've never even grown a garden — be allowed to weigh in on the discussion, much less shape important food policies?

Aya Hirata Kimura, one of the other editors, offered this quote to The Garden Island:

“I sympathize with the investments in local food but at the same time I feel the arguments for localization of food are simplistic. If the goal is maximizing the volume of food in the quickest way, the quickest way to do that is with modernized farming and intensively chemical farming and is that what people want?”

I agree that the arguments for the localization of food are simplistic. They fail to take into account the high cost of producing food in Hawaii, the challenge of feeding some 8 million tourists, the realities that food can be produced and processed much less expensively on the mainland due to economies of scale. So yeah, it's good to be talking about that.

But Kimura then goes on to show her bias — and her ignorance — by offering her assumption that the quickest way to do that is through “intensively chemical farming,” a term that is essentially meaningless, but loaded with pejoratives.

And is anyone really serious about doing away with “modernized farming?” What does that even mean? A return to the o'o? Oxen pulling a plow? Women and children engaged in hand-weeding? Using nightsoil in the fields?

The book's description offers more insight into what is really behind so much of the modern food movement:

Given the island geography, high dependency on imported food has often been portrayed as the primary challenge in Hawai`i, and the traditional response has been localized food production. The book argues, however, that aspects such as differentiated access, the history of colonization, and the neoliberalized nature of the economy also need to be considered for the right transformation of our food system.

There is no question that the modern food system can be improved. But it has effectively delivered more food — safely, reliably and at affordable prices — than ever before in history.

So before we let the academics, activists and foodies start tinkering with it too dramatically as part of a larger socio-political agenda — "democratic ownership of food resources and policies at all scales, and not merely the local level or even the nation-state"  we should consider the implications — hunger, famine, high food prices — if they're wrong.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Musings: Perceptions of Risk

Upon landing in Auckland on Hawaiian Airlines, passengers were reminded of New Zealand's commitment to protecting its environment from invasive pests. They were then told to remain seated as the overhead compartments were sprayed with “an aersol” that had been approved by the World Health Organization for use within aircraft.

The word pesticide was never uttered. No one was offered the opportunity to opt-out, or leave the plane before spraying started. No one was given a mask or protective gear. There was no disclosure of the spraying prior to boarding. Only those who were “severely allergic to aerosoles” were invited to make that known to a flight attendant.

And if anyone stood up, or tried to remove an item from the overhead compartment, we were warned, the entire process would need to begin again.

As I felt a gentle mist drift down onto my arms, neck, face and hands, I thought of how the antis would totally freak out if anything like this was attempted in Hawaii, despite its own severe invasive species problem. Yet the returning residents sat quietly, making no complaint, and the spraying does not deter the more than 3 million tourists who visit the island nation each year.

How is that NZ folks can sit in an aircraft getting direct exposure to pesticide without fussing, while some Hawaii residents are absolutely convinced they're being poisoned by agricultural pesticides, even though drift from the fields has never been documented, even by the antis' own studies?

Chalk it up to perceptions of risk – and good old-fashioned fear-mongering, perpetrated for the purpose of raising money for activist groups and destroying the most valuable sector of Hawaii's agriculture.

I was in New Zealand, trying to enjoy time with family and the scenery of that beautiful country, trying to ignore Hawaii and GMOs and the craziness that surrounds that issue, when the Hawaii Department of Agriculture announced plans for increased monitoring and statewide pesticide disclosure, and the EPA proposed a hefty $4.8 million fine against Syngenta as punishment for farmworker safety violations that happened last January.

Though I didn't write about it at the time, I was kept apprised via the emails that flooded my inbox and pushed me over my international data limit.

But now I'm back, so let's start with the press conference, where DOA and the state Department of Health announced they had contracted with the USGS to conduct a two-year comprehensive water monitoring effort:

Surface water on Oahu and Kauai will be sampled for pesticides before and during storm events to evaluate if pesticides are moving offsite at unacceptable levels. Different land uses including urban, rural, and agricultural will be evaluated. Interim results will be released after the first year of the project.

Furthermore, it was revealed that the seed companies agreed to disclose their restricted use pesticide across the state. The state is going to implement interagency emergency response exercises for pesticide incidents. It's going to educate physicians on how to recognize and treat pesticide exposure, and re-start a program to educate families, since pesticide poisoning most often occurs in the home.

It came up with these plans in response to proposals from the Joint Fact Finding report, and in consulation with the EPA and the Migrant Clinicians Network, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, Hawaii Poison Control Center, Hawaii Birth Defects Registry, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii School of Nursing, Hawaii Emergency Physicians Association, and Kauai Veteran’s Memorial Hospital, and in light of an extensive California program that found no exposure, despite that state's much greater use of pesticides.

Yet the antis immediately denounced these efforts as insufficient, "ignoring the citizens," failing to “protect the keiki.”

Why? Because their existence, and their fundraising, depends on conflict, so they will do everything in their power to ensure it continues. So they wasted no time in preparing yet another shame meme to use in a call for more cash.
As for the EPA's proposed fine, though some people are treating it as gospel, and proof that every bad thing they ever imagined about the seed companies is true, the fact remains that it is a complaint based on allegations, some of which Syngenta disputes. The matter will now be decided by a judge.

The other facts are this: No one was harmed; it was one incident in one field, not an indictment of the entire company's operations, much less the industry; an HDOA inspector was on-site, and duly reported the incident to EPA, which then conducted an investigation. In other words, there is indeed regulation of pesticides and ag in Hawaii, and this shows the process works.

Here is another fact that wasn't reported: The EPA investigator improperly met with Earthjustice and other anti groups, none of which had actual knowledge of the incident. EPA was in negotiations with Syngenta on the penalty, but was under pressure to get it wrapped up before Trump came in. So the agency pushed ahead, Syngenta resisted and now the matter is going to a judge.

Yes, Syngenta blew it, and they'll likely be punished with a fine. Should the company be tarred and feathered and driven off the island as a result? No. Does it mean that pesticide violations are a regular part of their operations? No.

Because here's another fact: Even though the antis claim the Hawaii seed companies are unregulated, they are in fact subjected to far more scrutiny than farmers on the mainland, primarily because there are so few large farms in Hawaii.

The Hawaii seed companies are inspected at least monthly, or more often, on their USDA regulated crops. They are inspected quarterly on their pesticide use, or more often, if a complaint is made. Compare that to mainland farmers who may see a pesticide inspector only once every five years.

It's time to bring some reality and truth into the discussions around agricultural pesticide use in Hawaii. The antis have framed the dialogue around self-serving lies and fear-mongering. It's time for the Lege and others to stop playing along, and giving credence to their antics.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Musings: Same Old Tricks

Gary Hooser is still up to his old tricks, making up stuff up to frighten people about the seed companies, as The Garden Island plays along.

Though Hooser was soundly defeated by the voters, The Garden Island gives his propaganda prominent play, providing him a bully pulpit to continue the very tactics that led to his political demise.

Hooser's most recent rant is an attempt to keep the Council from removing an illegal law — Ordinance 960 — from the Kauai County books. He starts by claiming:

Because the courts have already invalidated the measure, repealing it serves no useful purpose. This is simply a political power play.

So what purpose would be served by keeping it on the books, rather than allowing Hooser to ace a political power play? But since he lost the election, he doesn't get to influence the Council any more.

The unconscionable part, though, is how Hooser uses the flawed Joint Fact Finding report to again fan the flames of fear and shore up his own totally baseless claim:

The data gathered during the JFF process indicate that Westside residents suffer from numerous health conditions at higher rates than residents living anywhere else on Kauai.

The science is clear. The pesticides and chemicals used by these companies are dangerous; harm at varying degrees is occurring to health and the environment.

In fact, the JFFG found the exact opposite: the science isn't clear, and harm is not occuring in any degree. What's more, the westside health conditions can be caused by many factors, with pesticide exposure the least likely source.

Hooser goes on to write:

Closure will only occur when the chemical companies fully disclose their pesticide usage, agree to reasonable buffer zones around schools, hospitals, homes and other sensitive areas, and the comprehensive testing of soil, air and water as has been recommended by the state/county JFF report is conducted.

Huh? The seed companies are voluntarily disclosing pesticide use and have created buffer zones. The state is preparing to conduct environmental testing and monitoring programs, and has set aside money to do so. 

The only thing preventing closure is Hooser, and The Garden Island's crappy coverage.

Meanwhile, Mark Sheehan of SHAKA is beating the same drum over on Maui. In his guest editorial he claims that Mayor Alan Arakawa is “callous and indifferent” to public health and environmental issues before writing:

While in the neighborhood he might want to talk to some of the distraught moms who still worry about their children’s long-term health and wonder why neither the county nor the state can do anything to protect them.

You mean, other than all the many laws, regulations and processes that are already in place to protect them? Especially since no one in the entire state has actually come forth with any documented illness caused by, or even linked to, exposure to pesticides used by the seed companies.

Like Hooser, Sheehan is both fact- and truth-challenged, madly spinning the federal court decision that invalidated all three Hawaii GMO and pesticide laws:

The outcome of this protracted battle is critically important because, under this new preemption attack used by the seed industry in court cases across the country — this Monsanto Doctrine — regulatory agencies are neutered in efforts to protect our food supply and public health.

The preemption doctrine gives national and state agencies an empty authority devoid of any real ability to regulate the toxic agrochemical companies that own and rule our food supply.

First, this pre-emption attack was not started by the seed industry. It was launched by the antis, who were trying to pre-empt state and federal laws with local ordinances. They lost, and now they are refusing to accept responsibility for pushing this issue to the limits.

Second, the Hawaii court rulings have zero impact on the federal agencies — FDA, EPA, USDA — that regulate pesticides and GM crops. The feds and state still can — and do — regulate and enforce. The rulings only made it clear that people like Mark Sheehan and the other anti-GMO activists can't use local laws to advance their own political agenda.

So they resort instead to the staples of their trade: fear-mongering and lies.

Kauai voters have already said no to these tactics, relegating Hooser to the sidelines.

Sadly, Maui hasn't yet wised up. Sheehan is likely setting the stage for things to come with antis seeking to take over both the council and the mayor's office — Elle Cochran has announced plans to run — in the 2018. 

Voters across Hawaii must continue to push back against these demagogues by denouncing fear-mongering, and demanding evidence-based decision-making instead.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Musings: Learn a Little

In a move that marks a dramatic shift in the island's political landscape, the newly installed Kauai County Council has introduced a bill calling for a repeal of the contentious Bill 2491/Ordinance 960.

The measure, which sought to control pesticides and GMO crops, was introduced by then-Councilman Gary Hooser in 2013, launching a bitter debate that polarized the community. 

But in the years since it was passed, it was overturned by the courts and voters rejected the three councilmen — Hooser, Jay Furfaro and the late Tim Bynum — who ushered it through the Council.

On Wednesday, the Council will consider a bill to remove the illegal law from the county's books, and it appears they easily have the votes to approve it.

The repeal bill, introduced by Council Chair Mel Rapozo and Vice Chair Ross Kagawa, states simply:

The Kaua’i County Council finds that by Judgment issued in Syngenta Seeds, Inc., et al. v. County of Kaua’i, Civ. No. 14-00014 BMK (D. Haw. filed Aug. 25, 2014), the Court declared Ordinance No. 960, codified as Chapter 22, Article 23 of the Kaua’i County Code 1987, as amended, “is preempted by state law and is therefore invalid.” On November 18, 2016, the District Court’s Judgment was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Syngenta Seeds, Inc., et al. v. County of Kaua’i et al., No. 14-16833, D.C. No. 1:14-cv-00014-BMK. Accordingly, the purpose of this Bill is to repeal the invalid law.

It's been a long, hard road to get to this point, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, destroying political careers and leaving lingering resentments and animosity that continue to divide families and neighborhoods.

Perhaps now the healing can begin.

Meanwhile, the Board of Land and Natural Resources yesterday voted to extend for another year Alexander & Baldwin's revocable permits to divert water from east Maui streams to support agriculture in Central and Upcountry Maui and Upcountry residential use.

Activists who converged on the meeting continued to claim that A&B is leaving streams dry, to the detriment of taro farmers. But A&B said that with the pending demise of sugar it has already reduced the amount of water it draws from 165 million gallons a day to 20 mgd.

Under yesterday's BLNR action, the company is limited to 80 mgd and it must fully restore water to 15 east Maui streams.

But activists rejected even that compromise as inadequate. They want all diversions to end until the company can prove it needs the water. Like they'd ever give it back once A&B gave it up. And what would happen to ag in Central Maui then? 

A&B officials argued that they must show they have sufficient water to attract the investment needed to transition 36,000 acres of HC&S lands from sugar into diversified ag.

Meanwhile, A&B and other revocable permit holders are continuing to seek water licenses through a process that has been poorly managed by the state, leading to lengthy delays.

Comments left on the Hawaii News Now Facebook post about the vote display the prevailing ignorance of so many on this (and other issues).

One person commented, “That's why you can't keep voting these same people into office,” apparently unaware that BLNR members are not elected.

Another wrote: “Abut [sic] they no grow anything any more so why do they need (?) the water?” Uh, so they can grow something else. Sugar just ended. You don't transition 36,000 acres of ag overnight.

And still another wrote: “Why do we smell money being exchanged under the table??? No exceptions to the rules should be made.”

No exceptions to the rules are being made. In fact, denying the extension would have run counter to a bill passed in the last legislative session that allowed revocable permit holders to seek up to three one-year renewals while they navigate the cumbersome water license process.

Also on Maui, the anti-cane people are not satisified that sugar is dead as of Monday. They're now engaged in conspiracy thinking:
Oh, yes. They're deliberately out to get you with dust and smoke. 

Hello! You wanted cane gone. WTF did you think would take its place? Were you expecting manicured lawns? Haven't you ever seen abandoned cane fields on other islands, filled with guinea grass, African tulips, albizia and other invasive species?

And once again we have people who admittedly do not understand the economics of ag, much less the practicalities, yet still they want to dictate how it's done.

I'm all for people speaking up and getting involved. But educate yourselves first, folks. And don't lie — like claiming all the streams are dry — or engage in paranoiac, fear-based rants to make your case. 

That's what led us to the mess of 2491. History means nothing if we don't learn from mistakes.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Musings: Water Wars

In their latest strike against Hawaii agriculture, activists are mounting an attack on Alexander & Baldwin's request for a one-year holdover water permit on Maui.

Though the activists are trying to make it all about A&B, the water system also serves Kula farmers and some 36,000 Upcountry Maui residential users, as well as 30,000 acres of A&B ag land in Central Maui.
The proposal will be heard by the Board of Land and Natural Resources at its Honolulu meeting on Friday.

At issue is whether A&B will be able to keep using water under a year-by-year holdover permit as it seeks a longer-term water license and transitions HC&S out of sugar and into diversified ag.

The BLNR action is in line with Act 126, a hotly contested law the state Legislature passed in response to a Circuit Court ruling that found the state's revocable water permit system was illegal. Act 126 allows revocable permit holders to keep using water under no more than three one-year holdover permits while the state processes their water license applications.

So though the BLNR action is essentially a housekeeping measure that continues the status quo while A&B goes through the water license process, activists are now trying to fight the Act 126 battle all over again. They are even using the exact same messaging in their call to action for the BLNR hearing as they employed in rallying folks to testify at the Lege:


If passed, this bill would allow commercial users to divert millions of gallons of public water per day and avoid protections for both Hawaiian and public water interests indefinitely, with no limitations on the amount or duration of the diversion.

Except the facts are actually this: There are indeed limits on the amount and duration of the diversion, and protections for Hawaiian and public water interests remain fully intact.

But hey, the first rule of activism is this: Don't let the facts get in the way of some good fear-mongering.

Though activists are framing the debate as seizing a public trust resource from corporate control, their actions could serve to undermine the expansion of diversified ag, which they claim to want, and accelerate development, which they supposedly don't want.

About 23,000 acres of A&B land in Central Maui have been designated as Important Ag Lands (IAL). But one requirement of an IAL designation is the availability of water. So if activists succeed in derailing A&B's holdover water permit, the company could make a strong case for pulling the land out of the IAL, thus opening the door for the development.

Activists are also claiming that A&B doesn't need the water because it has wells. But their wells produce brackish water that some crops can't tolerate.

Meanwhile, HC&S — Hawaii's last sugar plantation — is set to close on Dec. 12. As the fields are no longer cultivated, Central Maui is getting brown — and it will get a lot browner if there's no water.
I never thought I'd see the day when people were actually celebrating the demise of a major agricultural operation in Hawaii. Every other plantation closure has been mourned.

But people like Terez Amato Lindsey and others are actually cheering over this sad event, which will put hundreds of people out of work and have reverbations through the larger Maui economy:
Though Lindsey and others are saying A&B shouldn't get the water because it doesn't yet have a “firm plan” for how it's going to transition HC&S into diversified ag, they remain utterly clueless about the difficulty of finding economically viable uses for thousands of acres of farm land.

An article in Maui Now describes the challenges A&B is facing as it grows trial crops of corn, soybeans, sorghum and sunflowers. These ranged from strong winds that toppled young plants to insect and bird damage and destruction by wild pigs.

As Jerrod Schreck, who is part of the HC&S diversified ag trials team, noted:

So what’s important now is to understand how much it costs to grow these crops, what the actual yields are, and what inputs are required so we can determine if it can be a sustainable business.

We’re just trying to prove the irrigation, prove the concept, test the pest impacts, and if it makes sense, then we’ll scale up from there, but before we go commercial, I would expect to see a large scale block rotation that could be a year or more in length.

Agriculture is a business, which means it has to make economic and practical sense.

But since the anti-ag activists have never actually grown anything, they have no idea of what it takes to keep agriculture healthy and viable. Instead, they attack it on every front, even as they claim to support farming.

You just can't have it both ways. 

No water = no farms. No farms = no food and fuel. The end of ag = more resort uses and gentrification. It really is that simple.