Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Kauai takes the lead in GMO, pesticide regulation issue

by Larry Geller

Kauai is going where no other Hawaii county has gone before, and where our state government has feared to tread.

A public hearing is underway right now on Bill 2491, co-introduced by Kauai Council members Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum. The Council voted unanimously to hold the hearing, and Hooser has said he expects perhaps 2,000 people to attend.

The event is being livestreamed, click here. Audio streaming via KKCR is here. It appears that the room is packed. At this moment, Margery Bronster is testifying against the bill. Tune in. The chair has repeatedly asked the audience not to call out.

The hearing is started at 1:30 p.m. at the Kauai Veterans Center in Lihue. Decisionmaking is expected to be held today after receiving public testimony.

Update: Andy Parx corrects me in comments below—“No decision making today. The next meeting on the bill is a council committee next Monday at 9 a.m.”

Bill 2491 would require large volume pesticide users to disclose their use of pesticides and to identify genetically modified crops. It would also establish buffer zones around sensitive areas such as schools or hospitals.

The bill exposes the lack of information that we and our state government now have with regard to pesticide and other chemical use. From Gary Hooser’s op-ed in today’s paper:

It is really that basic: Kauai residents simply want the right to know.

But the agrochemical companies that annually use more than 18 undiluted tons of 22 different restricted use pesticides (RUPs) and an unknown amount (estimated at 80 tons) of general-use pesticides like glyphosate (Roundup) do not believe that Kauai residents deserve that right.

[Star-Advertiser p. A10, Kauai residents just want to know what dangerous chemicals are being used and how, 7/31/2013]

The paper has offered a counter-argument which includes false reassurances such as:

The ibuprofen we might take for a headache is more toxic than 70 percent of these pesticides.

[Star-Advertiser p. A10, There is no basis for adding more regulations on activitities (sic) that already are well regulated, 7/31/2013]

Ibuprofen can be taken in large doses (hundreds of milligrams) as an anti-inflammatory agent when recommended by a doctor, but would you want to drink or inhale some of the pesticides identified as known carcinogens? And the writer doesn’t say just how bad the other 30 percent are, or whether they are used on the GMO crops he is defending.

Hawaii can be lumped with developing countries due to poor pesticide regulation

Bill 2491 could be important as a first step in putting in place bare-bones regulation of pesticide use in the state. Control of these chemicals can only start when knowledge of what chemicals are used, by whom, and in what quantities is public knowledge.

While controversy in Hawaii has most recently centered around the GMO seed industry, a related issue, unmonitored use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals on food crops, receives little to no coverage in the commercial press.

Problems related to the application of pesticides include chronic health effects, environmental persistence, bioaccumulation and pest resistance.

Even early reports, more than a decade old, by the World Health Organization noted that in the agricultural sector, 14% of all known occupational injuries and 10% of all fatal injuries were caused by pesticides. And at the time of the report, the increased use of these chemicals was not suppressing the damage done by insects.

Despite a ten-fold increase in the use of chemical insecticides since WW2, the loss of food and fibre crops to insects has risen from 7% to 13%.

In response to the Star-Advertiser’s ibuprofen-is-more-dangerous guy:

60 pesticide active ingredients have been classified by recognised authorities as being carcinogenic to some degree. 118 pesticides have been identified as disrupting hormonal balance.

Reputable tweets have documented overspray of pesticides onto crops being prepared for harvest on Oahu. No one in the Department of Agriculture can say how often pesticides are misused—because essentially, there are not enough inspectors, and they are not inspecting.

Instead, the Department of Health samples crops at the point-of-sale. In other words, they are not standing in the fields watching chemicals being applied either.

The fact that news coverage of illegal pesticide use is so rare should raise the alarm, but so far the commercial press has been silent on this critical issue, as is typical of press silence in developing countries. In 2012 an investigation into whether pesticides were being used illegally on farms on Oahu made a bit of a splash when it turned up several unauthorized chemicals on the largely exported basil crop. See: Hawaii Basil Tainted with Unauthorized Pesticide (Hawaii Reporter, 5/11/2012).

The Hawaii Reporter article named names:

Additional testing at Oahu farms showed four of the farms were using at least one pesticide that is not approved for application on basil.

The farms where positive results turned up include Green Produce Farms, Luo's Plantation, S & Z Farm and Fat Law's Farm.

The distributors working with these farms include Wong’s Produce, D. Otani Produce, Y. Fukunaga, Manson Products and Armstrong Produce.

The announcement made today follows an April 20 report from the Department of Health that Fat Law Farm, Hawaii's largest basil grower, was also using illegal pesticides on its 29 acres of basil crops.

I cited the Hawaii Reporter article because they have been following pesticide issues for some time. A Google search turns up an extensive library of articles on pesticide use and misuse, from that website.

Are foreign workers who can’t read English exploited and endangered by misuse of pesticides?

Whether state government can protect agricultural workers from direct exposure to chemicals, and what effect illegal or off-label use may have on the safety of our food supply, is an unanswered question. This report raises doubts:

Hawaii Reporter disclosed earlier this month that one farm worker at a Kahuku farm owned by Tony Law was hospitalized at Castle Medical Center after suffering a stroke. Tony Law is one of four Law brothers operating farms in Hawaii.

The worker, Alay Tansili, came to Hawaii in 2006 on a “B2” visitor’s visa good for a six-month stay in the country and worked illegally on farms here since then.

Chemicals on the kahuku farm are mixed and sprayed before the containers are burned

Another "B2" Lao worker at the same Kahuku farm, Khamfanh Keohavong, suffered serious medical problems this year after prolonged exposure to pesticides. He said he and Alay had to spray three to four days a week with virtually no training. Being that they don’t speak English, they cannot read the warning or instruction labels.

Melissa Vincenty, a local immigration attorney who represents several dozen human trafficking victims in Hawaii originally from Thailand and Laos, said Alay and Khamfanh have worked under "terrible conditions" and were sickened after spraying chemicals several days a week over a period of years.

While Khamfanh experienced blackouts and numbness is his limbs and now has a brain tumor, Alay suffered from rashes, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, numbness in his arms and legs and the loss of his sense of taste and later had a stroke.

Alay had been afraid to leave the farm as Khamfanh did, because he was under the impression that his situation is not as bad as what other Laotian workers are experiencing in Hawaii. Both say they lived on the Tony Law farm for at least four years.

[Hawaii Reporter, After Oahu Farm Workers Fall Ill, State Inspectors Look Into Workers' Safety, Food Security, 12/16/2011]

Not mentioned above is that the burning of many pesticide containers in the fields is prohibited, and burning, of course, also masks which chemical was applied by the workers.

If a worker is made to misapply pesticides, is your food safe?

Read the full article for the report on what happened to the farm workers.

While family-owned farms likely have an incentive to follow label instructions and state and federal regulations, the state is doing little or nothing to assure that we are protected from misuse of chemicals by farms large or small, family-owned or not.

Lack of inspection is well-known and likely exploited

Department of Health restrictions on overtime meant that night or weekend markets were never inspected.

Let that sink in for a moment—produce can be sold to you that vendors know will never be inspected.

I am aware of a vendor selling fish at a market who did not have a permit to do so. No inspector ever came by to check this.

Big money is clearly behind efforts to derail Bill 2491. If it fails, we are back to the status quo on food safety.

I hate to spoil your dinner, but I hope that I’ve raised your curiosity about what has been sprayed on your lettuce. It’s not ibuprofen.


No decision making today. The next meeting on the bill is a council committee next Monday at 9 a.m.

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