Underlying motives fuel pesticide bills

It’s that time of year again in the Legislature.

In the session that’s just a couple of weeks old, 29 pesticide-related bills have been introduced, but many use stealth techniques to attack the cultivation of genetically engineered crops in addition to further restricting pesticide.

That’s one less than during the last session, though it’s not really progress. Some of the new ones have made it through at least one committee.

In their bill titles, many seek to ban one pesticide, in particular — chlorpyrifos — or require greater disclosure of pesticide use or creation of pesticide buffer zones.

But down toward the bottoms of many of these bills comes the language for which they are really intended. They seek back-door bans on GMO farming by creating requirements for growing crops indoors or requiring a “moratorium” transparently intended to be permanent. They seek to impose pesticide buffer zones that would remove thousands of acres of land from cultivation, without offering evidence to support the scale of such buffer zones.

One of them, Senate Bill 2874, starts out saying that “Hawaii has become a location of increasing commercial agriculture operations that utilize genetically engineered crops.” That’s true, as far as it goes, but it ignores two realities. One is that there is no body of legitimate scientific evidence that GMO crops are anything to be scared of. But more important, bill language in much of this legislation also seeks to rein in large-scale “commercial agricultural operations” of any kind which, ironically, Hawaii needs more of, not less.

Note to all legislators and, if necessary, Gov. David Ige: Before you vote in favor of or sign any of this legislation, make sure to read each bill thoroughly, all the way to the end and ask yourself if this all is really in the interests of Hawaii residents.

Many of the bills are fundamentally dishonest. They appear to address a specific pesticide, but they actually have a stealth purpose: to outlaw GMO agriculture, for which there is not, and has not been, any scientific justification.

Some of the bills seem — on first review — to focus on banning potentially dangerous chlorpyrifos, statewide. At first flush, it seems hard to argue against such a ban. Chlorpyrifos, used by people who are not highly trained, can be very dangerous. The argument here breaks down, however, when you consider that some unique conditions in Hawaii agriculture argue for much more restrictive state regulations instead of an outright ban.

Hawaii’s agriculture industry is a long way from the Mainland. Pesticide sales in the state lag many other places. As a result, some pesticides that could be used instead of chlorpyrifos are not available here because their manufacturers have chosen not to register them in Hawaii.

A farmer friend, who has a degree in entomology (the study of insects), described chlorpyrifos this way: “It’s the sledge hammer in your tool box. You don’t need to use it very often, but when you do need it, you need it.” She went on to explain that accomplishing the same elimination of pests that chlorpyrifos offers could involve use of two, or more, other pesticides, which together could be riskier than chlorpyrifos.

And let’s be clear. The overwhelming majority of cases of people being harmed by pesticides are linked to use in the home, not in commercial agriculture.

It’s true that Syngenta, a seed company that had operations on Kauai until last year, just settled a case involving 10 workers who were inadvertently exposed to chlorpyrifos. But as much as Syngenta screwed up by letting the workers return to a recently sprayed field too soon, the rest of the current regulations restricting chlorpyrifos — which require use of extensive personal protective equipment — saw to it that there were no medical consequences for the workers. Without question, Syngenta should have been sanctioned, and it was, but the workers were still protected.

All pesticide use relies on risk-benefit calculations. There is no pesticide that, in high enough concentrations, won’t harm you, and that includes those widely used in organic farming. But there is also no drug you will ever take — including aspirin — that doesn’t have the potential to harm, or even kill, you.

And let’s be honest about this. Our need to produce more of our own food in Hawaii is critical. It will require more agriculture of all types — GMO, conventional and organic — to bring us closer to food independence. Chemicals of one kind or another permit farming at the scale to accomplish this goal. That includes organic farms that rely on pesticides.

But the bills in question do far more damage. Several, including Senate Bill 2439, lay the groundwork for anyone to sue any farmer at any time if the complainant contends the farm is using pesticides inappropriately or growing GMO crops. It would create a nightmare for all farmers, who would have to prepare to defend themselves against an infinite number of frivolous court actions. Legal fees, alone, could bankrupt many.

That bill, and others, also give individual counties the authority to regulate GMOs and pesticides. You will recognize that one. It was a key provision of Bill 2491 here on Kauai, which caused the ordinance to be invalidated because courts found that counties lack that power.

The argument against it is twofold. First, no Hawaii county has the money or expertise to implement and maintain such a regulatory program. That is especially true on Kauai, where we can’t even put enough police officers and firefighters on the job, keep the grass mowed in the parks, get the potholes out of the roads or replace bridges in danger of collapse.

We do not have the ability to recreate a pesticide/GMO bureaucracy. Better would be for counties to redouble their efforts to get the state and the federal government to enforce existing regulations more consistently and aggressively.

Second, having four different regulatory schemes in the state would make it hopelessly confusing for farmers. And local rules could be as nonsensical as one in Hawaii County — since killed — that banned even growing rainbow papayas, a GMO fruit widely credited with saving Hawaii’s papaya industry. The last time around on this, counties did not display any deep understanding of how intelligent pesticide and GMO regulation can be accomplished.

The anti-GMO forces have not given up and those who advocate for illogical additional regulation of pesticide use are part of that movement. Never mind that what documentation there is concludes that exposure in the home or use in gardens and yards is where the real risk has been for decades.

The Legislature would do well to recognize that this has gone far enough. Hawaii has enough issues about which intelligent legislation is critically important. Continuing to tilt at the GMO windmill serves no purpose. These bills all go in the wrong direction.


Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident who writes occasionally for The Garden Island.

  1. Charlie Chimknee February 25, 2018 2:38 am Reply

    This article does well to make the dangers of poison sound just all right, in spite of the fact they are dangerous poisons.

    The author stated that Syngenta workers were allowed back into poison sprayed fields too soon after spraying, but what about real time spraying drifting into homes, schools, roadways, etc. the winds of Kauai push the over spray that is in the air even a few miles undetected our some days. The repeated poison spraying impacts the tissues of of people, pets, livestock, and wildlife by inhalation and skin contact, over time we have sick people not sure of their source of cancer and illnesses…as well as food and livestock tainted with poison.

    Poison is poison and if home use is a problem it should be banned or restricted there too to protect neighbors and children who are still developing their bodies and brains until physical maturity which ie between the ages of 25 to 27 who are in fact still developing adults and are still more susceptible to cancer causing chemicals.

    These poisons are made from petroleum, petrochemicals, and they all can cause cancer and should not be taken lightly in their use in and around food or living things.

    As to your no worrries about these poisons, any scientist knows that the side effects of chemicals can take decades before coming out with the symptoms of cancers and other conditions that by then it is too late to save yourself and the chemical company has made their profits and moved on.

    And GMO ? Unchecked meddling with Nature is always a gamble.

    Why not Tell us about the gun used in laboratories used to blast Gentically Modified Material into the Genes of whatever organism is being “guinea pigged” by blasting open and apart the natural genes and forcing with a veritable gunshot in a laboratory, laboratory made foreign genetic material shot into the genes of what were formerly genes made by God and did their thing under the laws of Nature, instead of for profit at any health cost Corporate laboratories…the same laboratories that make the medicines that are advertised that they will make you sick or may kill you.

    And this author scoffs at saying aspirin can kill you, well they kill children and the warning label says BEWARE.

    These pseudo science writers are a dime a dozen who poo poo the seriousness of poisons.

    Poisons are poisons and are at least honestly marked with the Skull and Crossbones.

    If any farm claiming it is organic is using pesticides they should be exposed to the public so the public can safeguard themselves from those poisons.

    After reading this article I want to be more careful to stay away from these poisons. Very many industrial nations already have banned the chemicals used in Hawaii farms from being used in their countries.

    If you are offered something with or without poison, which would you choose? If you choose poison, don’t worry, it’s just an IQ TEST.


  2. Sasha February 25, 2018 6:44 am Reply

    Finally, a well-reasoned article that gets to the truth about the anti-pesticide movement, its goal and its consequences.
    Hopefully, lawmakers are listening.
    If we really want to protect keiki, we should make sure that pesticides are used properly in the schools and at home. And restrict neighbors’ use of malathion during school hours or require that they notify schools before using it since that use was the the cause of the statewide school evacuations over the last decade.

  3. Manawai February 25, 2018 7:50 am Reply

    Well said, Allan! Now it’s time for the luddites to respond. Keep your head down.

  4. kauaiboy February 25, 2018 12:24 pm Reply

    I see a lot of words with which Mr. Parachini uses to defend those who utilize pesticides especially the “seed companies” which use huge amounts of agricultural to do open field testing of dangerous pesticides and herbicides, but which add NO food whatsoever to our food system.

    These are questions I would like to see addressed by Mr. Parachini, for clarification purposes:

    >Exactly which “thousand of acres” in the islands are currently devoted to food production for consumption in the islands which would be impacted by the imposition of pesticide buffer zones?

    > Exactly which “unique conditions in Hawaii agriculture argue for much more restrictive state regulations instead of an outright ban (of chlorpyrifos)?” Exactly which pests are being controlled by by chlorpyrifos, and to benefit which food crop for domestic food consumption?

    > Who exactly is your “farmer friend, who has a degree in entomology (the study of insects)” and what food crop for domestic consumption is she claiming to protecting from insects (and which insects exactly) using chlorpyrifos. Might your ”farmer friend” be actually part of the “seed company” which do not contribute to our sustainable food supply?

    > As you note that “The overwhelming majority of cases of people being harmed by pesticides are linked to use in the home, not in commercial agriculture” do you agree, Mr. Parachini, that such dangerous pesticides should be highly regulated, or banned, for sale to the general public?

    > Do you agree that Syngenta, which settled a case involving 10 workers who were inadvertently exposed to chlorpyrifos, received a minor slap on the hand from the EPA, lead by Scott Pruitt, who encourages corporate profits over public safety at every turn.

    > Which pesticides do you contend are widely used in organic farming? Most organic farmers I know of use NO pesticides or, if they do, use those that do not pose a problem to human health whatsoever, even if use in reasonable excess. Please clarify your contention.

    > I hope, Mr. Parachini, that you have had the opportunity to try heirloom sunrise papayas, against which GMO rainbow papayas, pale in comparison. Local residents who understand the difference generally preferred the tastier non-GMO sunrise papaya. Where are most GMO rainbow papayas shipped and sold? Within the islands? Or to the mainland and other offshore markets? And if much, if not most rainbow papaya , is not consumed here in the islands, how does that benefit our domestic food sustainability?

    I am open to your honest answers to my questions and concerns. I seek more clarification about these issues to help me formulate a better stance on public safety and public health issues, as well as how best to advocate for better island-based food sustainability.


  5. John Zwiebel February 25, 2018 7:19 pm Reply

    There’s no more reason to be against GMO than there was to be against stem-cell research during the Bush administration. Anyone remember the right-wing hysteria over chimeras? Bush’s ban pushed a cure for cancer by at least ten years.

    GMO is a technology.

    But what is that GMO technology being used for? Two choices stand out: 1) making the plants more resistant to Glyphosate and 2) incorporating the Bt gene into the plant.

    Glyphosate is a dangerous chemical (yes, I am aware that it is sold like water at Home Depot). It is linked with Celiac Disease.

    The Bt gene has been linked to leaky gut syndrome disease.

    Arguing that these bills are all against GMO is not helpful just as these bills which may paint all GMO with a broad brush is not helpful.

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