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:
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.