I do care about the health of Kauai

I care deeply about our health and environment and I’ll put my efforts to improve them up against anyone’s. I’m sad that some people insist I cannot care if I don’t believe what they believe and if I don’t support their ideas.

I know GMO opponents care about our health and environment — they care, but their ideas include too many half-truths and misinformation. Worse, their policy priorities don’t do anything to reduce the leading causes of death and disease on Kauai.

Hawaii has an appallingly high death rate from smoking; it kills about 100 people each year. Heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes caused by poor diet, obesity and lack of physical activity account for even more preventable deaths. Our poor diet of too much over-processed food containing too much salt, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup is a proven cause of disease and death.

But, despite scary claims, GMO foods have never been shown to be responsible for even one health problem here or anywhere. Not one. I’m not insensitive to people desperate to find a cause for an unexplained illness. Some people believe disease is caused by astrology, bad karma, witchcraft or GMO foods — but that doesn’t make it true, no matter what they say, how tragic their story, or what they read on Facebook.

Agricultural science is one of humanity’s biggest successes. For a little more than 10,000 years man, not nature, has created the plants and animals we eat. Wheat isn’t natural; man invented it at the dawn of agricultural science around 8,800 BC. Man invented soybeans (1,000 BC), bananas (8,000 BC), almonds (3,000 BC) and cattle (8,500BC). Man took often inedible, sometimes poisonous, usually non-nutritious plants and animals and created the foods we eat today. If you like the organic fruits and vegetables you eat today then thank the agricultural scientists who created them. The only hope mankind has to feed its exploding population is to embrace, not impede, agricultural science as it searches for ways to eliminate hunger by growing more food in less space with less harm to our environment. We need real solutions, not corrupted by corporate greed, but not corrupted by anti-GMO prejudice either.

Pesticide misuse is a valid concern. Pesticides are poisons and are regulated as such; and so is most of the cleaning aisle at the supermarket. But advocating local regulation is misguided, especially regulation that targets different pesticide users differently instead of fairly across the board. The EPA has a good track record protecting the environment: It has eliminated acid rain and cleaned the air over our major cities. The EPA is responsible for a big decline in danger to humans from pesticide pollution in US waterways. (During 1992−2001, U.S. Geological Survey testing found 17 percent of agricultural and 5 percent of mixed-land-use streams had annual mean pesticide concentrations that exceeded human-health benchmarks. During 2002−2011, only one agricultural stream and no urban or mixed-land-use streams exceeded human-health benchmarks for any of the measured pesticides.) As new scientific evidence develops we must always demand corresponding, improved EPA regulation.

We do urgently need a public-health-science epidemiological investigation of Kauai’s health problems, not just the recently announced stake-holder-based study that will be more opinion-based than science-based. The scientific methods that eliminated cholera and typhoid in the US can help us determine once and for all if there are unusual health patterns concentrated around areas of past or present pesticide use, our landfill or industrial brownfield sites. Until we collect and analyze statistically-valid public health data we have no idea if there are or are not environmentally-caused health problems here and we have no true idea at all what the causes might be. If you care about a healthy environment join me to demand a science-based epidemiological study performed by public health professionals to determine the answers we need.

Smoking, obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity are without doubt the leading causes of preventable death on Kauai and we’re not doing nearly enough about them. If you care about health on Kauai join me in demanding solutions for our leading causes of preventable disease and death.

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Walt Barnes is a resident of Kapaa.

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