Disclosure begins

LIHUE — Sunday marked the beginning of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s “Good Neighbor Program” on Kauai.

And each large agricultural company — the same five mentioned in controversial Article 22 (formerly Bill 2491) — has expressed its willingness to comply.

“I have confirmed that all five of the companies distinguished in the bill have agreed to participate in the voluntary program,” HDOA Public Information Officer Janelle Saneishi said Tuesday. “It’s not in writing … it is a voluntary program, but they all have agreed.”

Those companies include DuPont Pioneer, BASF, Dow AgroSciences, Syngenta and Kauai Coffee.

Laurie Yoshida, communications manager at Pioneer, said her company — as well as others — believe Article 22 related to pesticides and genetically modified organisms is legally flawed, and that regulation and oversight of the industry should remain at the state level.

As a result, companies have expressed support for the GNP.

Pioneer has begun reaching out to schools, medical facilities and hospitals, in an effort to ensure they register to receive pre-application notifications of restricted use pesticides, according to Yoshida. So far, the company has identified two charter schools and one elementary school in Kekaha, as well as Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihue, that fall within the 1,000-foot notification zone outlined in the state program.

“(We have) appointments with schools in Kekaha this week,” she said, adding that those facilities wouldn’t know how to register with the company unless Pioneer reaches out.

“We’re taking the initiative on that.”

In a release Monday, Syngenta announced it too began implementing the program’s elements, including buffer zones, and conducting outreach with neighbors.

“We see this as an opportunity to engage more meaningfully with our neighbors to ensure they understand what we do on our farms and answer their questions,” Syngenta spokesman Mark Phillipson said in the release.  

Although the program doesn’t contain guidelines for notifying residents of pesticide use, Syngenta said it will “reach out to neighbors, provide information about the program and invite them to participate.”

Yoshida said Pioneer is committed to doing the same.

“We’re trying to use some of the guidelines to see how far we are going to reach out,” she said. “But we are going to reach out to our neighbors.”

Responding to a whirlwind of activity surrounding Bill 2491, the state unveiled the voluntary program via a press release Nov. 13 — just days before the Kauai County Council passed its own measure into law.

Barring legal interference, Article 22 is slated to go into effect in August, at which time the county would have regulatory oversight of the same five ag companies.  

One clear and major difference between the two pathways, or tracks, is that the county law says companies “shall” comply or be penalized. The state program contains no such language.

Other differences include: Disclosure of all pesticides versus only restricted use pesticides; 500-foot versus 100-foot buffer zones; and weekly versus monthly post-application reporting (The latter restrictions apply to the state program).

Additionally, the GNP makes no mention of genetically modified crops, does not implement buffer zones around waterways, or impose fines or criminal penalties for noncompliance.

Alicia Maluafiti, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, previously told The Garden Island that unlike the state program, Article 22 had nothing to do with pesticide use reporting, bur rather “ridding the island of the seed companies.”

But it is a charge that Councilman Gary Hooser and other county bill proponents have argued against since the beginning. Hooser says Article 22 is simply about the community’s right to know what is happening in its own backyard.

Peter Wiederoder, spokesman for Dow AgroSciences, said his company is already implementing 500-foot setbacks around schools and 100-foot buffers around residences, which meet or exceed the GNP guidelines.

Kaumakani School is the lone facility within Dow’s 1,000-foot notification zone, and Wiederoder said he has  begun discussions to identify how the school prefers to receive notifications.

Kirby Kester of BASF said that while there are no facilities within his company’s notification zone, it is still working to address community concerns.  

“We’re talking to the schools and hospitals regardless,” he said.

Kester and representatives of other seed companies said Tuesday that they were working with the state to iron out details of the monthly post-application summaries of all RUP applications.

The first is due Jan. 15, according to Saneishi.

Some companies have voiced that their participation should not suggest they believe in all aspects of the state program.

In a written statement, Dow said it questions the utility of pre-application notifications.

“Singling out certain activities for disclosure under the convenient notion of ‘right to know’ suggests the public should be worried about those activities,” the company wrote in a statement, adding that RUPs, when applied according to their label, meet the same health and safety standards as other pesticides.  

Yoshida said the state program’s buffer zones — while smaller than those in Article 22 — are “arbitrary” and “not based on science.” She also pointed out that the same five companies are targeted by Article 22 and the GNP.

“There are some things in it that we don’t necessarily agree with,” she said Tuesday. “But our intent is to comply.”

While the industry welcomed the state’s announcement, calling it reasonable, collaborative and a proactive step in the right direction, proponents of 2491 were quick to describe it as an insulting, last-ditch effort to derail the county’s efforts.

Andrea Brower, a key supporter of 2491, said the state program is insufficient and comes without guarantees.

“All voluntary. In other words, companies don’t need to do anything,” she wrote in an email. “No fines, no criminal penalties, no enforcement, no law or regulation, just a ‘We might …’”

It is important to note that both Article 22 and the GNP can move forward simultaneously.

And Brower said she believes both “absolutely should.”

“Immediate voluntary disclosure would show the agrochemical companies willingness to begin matching their words to actions, and work more collaboratively to address community concerns,” she wrote. “But clearly the voluntary program is not a substitute for full, mandated disclosure.”

Here we provide a general breakdown of the two pathways to disclosure and buffer zones — their similarities and differences.

• Chris D’Angelo, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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