In recent years no bill arising from the County Council has received more public attention than Bill 2491 seeking to regulate pesticides and genetically modified organisms.
In addition to a large attendance at the public hearing on the bill, there has been a flurry of letters published in this paper. It appears that the bill has numerous supporters as well as numerous opponents.
It may be useful to examine the terms of the bill. Its 10 pages are constructed along the lines of other measures seeking to protect the public against perceived perils.
It contains 13 “findings” it states are appropriate to establish its provisions. Three of these are excepts from the Hawaii Constitution and Statutes that contain enabling provisions for county ordinances.
The remainder purport to express the background and circumstances claimed to justify the substantive provisions of the bill. Although well written, the findings tend to overstate the perils of concern and are mostly conclusionary in nature rather than factual.
For example, a finding asserts that there has been a “rapid, long-term and unregulated growth of commercial agricultural entities engaged in the use and development of genetically modified organisms” on Kauai.
In reality, this claimed burgeoning expansion consists of about four relatively small seed companies and a coffee company. The findings act specificity in identifying the perils against which the public protection is sought and they fail to mention the economic effect of implementing the provisions of the bill.
After the findings the bill states its lofty purpose to inform and protect the public from “any” negative impacts from the use of pesticides or genetically modified organisms.
The bill then offers 21 definitions to support its meanings. The bulk of them are accurate expressions of the terms used. However, even here the authors of the bill fudge a little. A “pesticide” is asserted to include substances intended to regulate plants. It is quite a stretch to consider all plants to be pests.
The substantive provisions of the bill consist of a requirement of mandatory disclosures, restrictions on usage of pesticides and a moratorium on experimental use and production of genetically modified organisms.
While it may well be reasonable to require disclosure of usages which present potential perils, the crux of the problem with the bill is that nothing is contained or cited in the bill that definitively establishes the scope or nature of the hazards presented by use of pesticides or experimentation of genetically modified organisms.
This absence of responsible data is noted and confirmed in Finding 11 which frankly acknowledges that the impact of genetically modified organisms on the county have not been evaluated.
Finding six illustrates the bias that is inherent in the bill. It asserts that contamination of Kauai crops by “inadvertent drift” of genetically modified materials “can have devastating economic impacts.”
Perhaps so, but this is the first mention of the economic effect of the issues being considered, and nothing is provided as to the economic benefits that may be provided from pesticide or genetic modifications.
The bill provides for the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement as to pesticides and genetically modified organisms. In the light of the apparent concern about these items and the present lack of real data about their impact such a study may well be an appropriate step. It could identify and quantify the scope and the nature of the perils that may exist from the items.
However, in the absence of any demonstrated clear and present danger, the study should precede and not follow the implementation of restrictive controls.
Our citizens are properly concerned about developments as to which they are inadequately informed that may be affecting their environment.
The bill has served the function of offering a focus on the issues involved with pesticides and genetically modified organisms. It is difficult, if not impossible, to consider these matters with total objectivity.
But in my judgment, it would be far preferable to learn more about the potential concerns and to evaluate the proper steps of control before attempting to impose legislation that may well be misdirected or counterproductive. We should avoid another instance of “ready – fire- aim.”
A properly conducted Environmental Impact Statement may take some time to occur, but it is a necessary and orderly action that should happen prior to seeking restrictive actions that could be unnecessary or non-beneficial.
It is hoped that our County Council will reflect on these points and better orient any enactment so that it may serve the public welfare more effectively.
• Walter Lewis writes a bi-weekly column for The Garden island.