(Beyond Pesticides, July 15, 2013) They’re wrecking the place; the chemicals they produce are polluting groundwater and poisoning schoolchildren. In the absence of federal and state action, local communities are rising up to confront these agrichemical giants. As a testament to the power of local change, two Hawaiian counties, Kauai and the “Big Island” of Hawaii, have introduced legislation to restrict these practices. Monsanto, Dow, BASF, DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta are using the Hawaiian Islands as their private testing grounds for experimental pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops, but they don’t want residents to know where these fields are and what chemicals they are spraying on them; they don’t think they have that right. Federal and state governments have, in effect, sanctioned these practices and provided cover for these corporations to spray tons of restricted use pesticides across the islands (18 tons annually— and that’s just on the island of Kauai).
Kauai County Councilmen Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum recently introduced County Bill 2491, which would provide long overdue protections from some of the most egregious chemical intrusions occurring on the island. Commercial pesticide applications from these giant corporations would require a 500 ft buffer zone near schools, hospitals, residential areas, public roadways and sensitive ecological sites such as streams, rivers and shorelines. The testing of experimental pesticides would be restricted only to greenhouses and other contained structures. A moratorium would be placed on the planting of new GE crops on the island, so that an Environmental and Public Health Impact Study (EPHIS) could be performed to properly assess health and environmental effects. All pesticide applications and GE crops would be subject to mandatory disclosure to the county. And the use of any pesticides by these corporations would require prior notification through the public posting of signs.
These requirements are not unreasonable or unduly burdensome; they are commonsense protections for people who are having dangerous experiments occurring in their backyard. As Councilman Hooser remarked to The Garden Island, “This is all about understanding what’s happening, and either putting to rest the fears, if they’re not valid, or putting in place protections if these fears are valid.” This ordinance is about health and life, and the agrichemical companies know that. In fact, that may be the reason why Senate Bill 727 was introduced to the Hawaii state legislature earlier this year.
There is a Hawaii Statute (Section 46-1.5) that grants individual counties “the power to enact ordinances deemed necessary to protect health, life and property, and to preserve the order and security of the county and its inhabitants.” Hawaii State Senate Bill 727 would have struck the words “life” and “health” from that statute, but it was recognized by Councilman Hooser and ultimately garnered enough opposition that it didn’t pass.
The huge public outpouring over this bill is surely a result of the reverberations felt by the citizens of Kauai from the footsteps of these giant agrichemical corporations, footsteps which kick up pesticide-laden fugitive dust that blows into local homes. Residents of Waimea, Kauai have sued DuPont Pioneer for this toxic trespass, alleging that long-term exposure to this dust, in addition to the pesticides drifting from experimental GE fields, has reduced property values, damaged homes, and caused residents to live in danger of pesticide-related health effects.
Applications of restricted use pesticides on the island affected children and their teachers directly in the classroom. After a number of incidents at Waimea Canyon Middle School in 2006 and 2007, administrators and teachers sat down with Syngenta and secured an agreement from the company not to spray before school was out at 3:30 pm. Syngenta broke that promise, according to Maluhia Group, a coalition of Waimea Canyon Middle School staff, parents and community members. There’s even a YouTube video showing the event. Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture investigated the incidents, but came to the conclusion that Cleome gynandra, known on the islands as “stinkweed”, was the main culprit. However concerned residents are not convinced, as there have never been any recorded medical incidents of widespread poisoning by stinkweed.
Beyond Pesticides is actively supporting efforts in Kauai, and provided testimony for Bill 2491, which you can read here. The ordinance passed its first reading by a unanimous vote of 7-0, paving the way for a public hearing to take place on July 31st. Expecting another massive crowd, the Kauai County Council has selected a local Performing Arts Center as the venue for the public event.
The “Big Island” of Hawaii County has also moved towards legislation, Bill 79, introduced by Councilwoman Margaret Wille, that would prohibit the planting of any GE crops that are not already grown on the island. Currently, only GE papaya is grown on the Big Island. This bill would prevent the introduction of new, experimental GE crops from being planted. While Bill 79 is a preventative measure for Hawaii County, the Kauai County government is being forced to work backwards, as these experimental GE crops are already being planted on that island.
It is evident and transparently so that, despite industry claims, GE agriculture has not resulted in decreased pesticide use, but instead encouraged resistance in many common weed species, which in turn has caused a dramatic rise in pesticide applications. A rational response to widespread resistance would be the adoption of organic management systems. Instead, industry’s “solution” to resistance is more powerful, more dangerous and highly toxic chemicals. Agrichemical giants are currently making an enormous push to bring combined herbicide-ready crops on to market. This includes Monsanto’s (produced in partnership with their “competitor,” agrichemical giant BASF) dicamba and glyphosate ready cotton and soybean and Dow’s 2,4-D and glyphosate ready corn. However, concern voiced by farmers, consumers, and public health officials during the comment period for these crops forced USDA to delay their introduction before an EIS is performed.
Despite federal government requirements that these new GE crops undergo an EIS, the residents of Kauai have not been afforded this simple protection. Have these new GE crops been experimented with on the island? Have even more toxic combinations been tested? There is absolutely no way to know; and the chemical giants prefer it stay that way.
For more information on the failed promises of GE agriculture, see Center for Food Safety senior attorney George Kimbrell’s speech to Beyond Pesticides 29th National Pesticide Forum, or our Pesticides and You article “Ready or Not, Genetically Engineered Crops Explode on Market.” You can also learn more about how to get involved in these important efforts through the organization Hawaii Seed, or the website Stop Poisoning Paradise.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.