(Beyond Pesticides February 10, 2016) Last week Hawaii’s House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, chaired by Representative Chris Lee, unanimously passed a measure to require large-scale, outdoor commercial agricultural businesses to publicly disclose outdoor application of pesticides in various environmentally sensitive areas. House Bill 2574 will make the reporting guidelines for the voluntary Kauai program mandatory across the state and will also establish “disclosure and public notification requirements for outdoor applications of pesticides in and in the proximity of schools, health care facilities, child care facilities, elder care facilities, and other environmentally sensitive areas,” according to the bill. The bill’s next step is the Agriculture Committee, where chair Representative Clift Tsuji has killed pesticide-related bills in the past.
House Bill 2574 is the latest in a string of laws proposed by local and state governments within Hawaii to try to protect citizens from the harms of toxic pesticides. In 2015, Hawaiian legislators proposed House Bill 1514 to establish school and hospital buffer zones. The bill, which would have prohibited farmers from using large amounts of pesticides within a specified distance of schools and hospitals, stemmed from concerns about the impact of genetically-engineered (GE) farming and its inherent dependency on increasing pesticide use. The measure sought to require companies’ disclosure of the pesticides used and the volume of use. Despite having strong backing from neighbor island residents and the Hawaii chapter of the Center for Food Safety (CFS), the bill was eventually rejected by the state House Agriculture Committee. This rejection is concerning for proponents of HB 2574, as many fear under Representative Tsuji’s leadership the newly proposed language may meet the same fate.
Aside from the state-level attempts to curb pesticide use in Hawaii, recent years have seen several local jurisdictions also attempting to pass their only legislation on pesticide and pesticide-related issues, which are all too often met with defeat under industry pressure. Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island all passed laws attempting to regulate the seed industry, but a federal district court judge ruled that Hawaii counties do not have that power. A federal court also blocked a local pesticide and GE law passed in Kauai, which was designed to protect local residents and Kauai’s environment from the year-round spraying of large quantities of restricted use pesticides by multinational chemical companies by ruling that Hawaii state law preempts local authority to restrict pesticides. The county of Hawai’i chose to appeal a similar decision by a federal court that invalidated its 2013 county law restricting GE crops on the island. Other counties have not fared so well in the face of federal opposition, as evidenced in Maui’s 2015 decision not to defend its own GE moratorium bill in the face of a challenge from the chemical industry, much to the disappointment of activists that supported the original measure.
There is hope for the new bill will fair better that its predecessors, as the agriculture committee has already received at least 625 pages of written testimony it will consider in making its final decision. Center for Food Safety, Americans for Democratic Action and the Pesticide Action Network have all voiced their support for the bill, advocating for the importance of mandatory reporting requirements for pesticides used within the state, despite efforts from Syngenta to maintain the voluntary reporting requirements that currently serve as law.
Residents living on the Hawaiian Islands are subject to a particularly pronounced form of environmental assault, as the state’s premiere growing conditions have made it a prime target for agrichemical companies to test new, experimental forms of GE crops. Data released in 2014 reveals that high levels of restricted use pesticides, in some cases almost double the pounds per acre average of other states, are being used in Kauai County. According to the Center for Food Safety, in 2014 alone, there were 1,381 field test sites in Hawaii, compared to only 178 sites in California- a large agricultural state. Most of these crops are engineered to tolerate herbicides. Testing these crops means repeated spraying of dangerous chemicals near neighborhoods, schools, and waterways. Residents of the Hawaiian Islands who live, work, or go to school near these fields are subject to incessant pesticide spraying, as the climate provides a year-round growing season for GE crops. A May 2014 report found 25 herbicides, 11 insecticides and 6 fungicides in Hawaii’s waterways, underscoring resident concerns for both the land and human health.
Beyond Pesticides continues to be an ardent supporter of common sense protections from pesticides and their associated use on GE crops. If you too support these issues, please consider joining us in person to help us continue the fight against pesticide use. This spring Beyond Pesticides is convening, with local and regional partner organizations, the 34th National Pesticide Forum from April 15-16 in Portland, Maine. Early bird registration is currently in effect, so make your plans to register today!
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: The Garden Island