$100K GMO study to begin

LIHUE — The New Year will provide an opportunity to separate fact from fiction in the heated debate over genetically modified crop production and pesticide use by the biotech seed industry on Kauai.

A joint fact-finding study, funded by the County of Kauai and the state Department of Agriculture and facilitated by Honolulu planner and mediator Peter Adler’s ACCORD 3.0 Network, will kick off around Jan. 1 and is expected to last a year.

A document prepared by ACCORD 3.0 details the scope of the $100,000 project.

“The issue of genetically modified (GM) agriculture production has generated many questions and considerable emotion,” Adler wrote. “One of the debates focuses on the possible adverse health and environmental impacts from pesticides used in conjunction with growing GM crops. Sorting out facts — what we know and can say with reasonable confidence, what we don’t know, and what we might reasonably need to know in the future — is challenging, but not impossible.”

The project group will not produce original research. Rather, it will collect, summarize and discuss existing evidence.

“Thus far, debates over pesticides and other related issues have been pursued primarily through litigation, legislative proposals and political lobbying,” Adler wrote. “Missing from the picture have been safe spaces where people with knowledge and goodwill who may disagree with each other can meet, review, discuss, interpret evidence and deliberate.”

Scott Enright, chairman of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture, said the pilot project is an important effort that could be used in other counties to address the controversial and divisive issues surrounding pesticides and the cultivation of GM crops.

The JFF group — which is separate from Adler’s project team — will consist of at least nine individuals from Kauai with knowledge of the island and backgrounds in agriculture, environmental health, epidemiology, toxicology, biostatistics, medicine, or land-based practices such farming, fishing, hunting or gathering.

While members may have pro- or anti-GMO leanings, they must be willing to examine data and evidence, according to the project description.

Members will be selected by Adler with the help of three advisers, including Helen Cox, chancellor of Kauai Community College, Mehana D.B. Blaich Vaughn, an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Diane Zachary, president and CEO of Kauai Planning and Action Alliance.

Adler also facilitated the county’s feral cat task force.

This state-led JFF study is similar but different from the Environmental and Public Health Impact Study (EPHIS) provision of Ordinance 960 (formerly Bill 2491), the county law related the pesticides and GMOs that was declared invalid by a federal judge in August.

Kauai County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who introduced a resolution for the EPHIS, described Adler as a pioneer and leader in conflict resolution, and said the study appears professional and in the spirit of what she and other council members wanted. 

“Now that it’s free from the problem of pre-emption, we can move forward,” she said.  

Once selected, the group will examine where GM and other production scale crops are grown on the island, the historic and current use of pesticides, the prevalence of acute and chronic health conditions occurring on Kauai at levels that are above state- or nation-wide rates, and any evidence of environmental contamination that can reasonably be associated with the use of pesticides, the document reads.

The JFF group will convene in eight meetings over a 12-month period, at least two of which will be open to the public. A final report will include the project’s background, a chronology of deliberations, and the group’s findings and recommendations.

In addition to Adler, project team members include Keith Mattson, Bruce Anderson, Catherine Nyberg, Katie Ranney, Christina Sablan and Ken Schmidt. The seven-person team will be responsible for independently convening, facilitating and reporting on the results of the JFF group.

Kauai Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. applauded the state for taking the lead on the project.

“For the past year we’ve been working with the state and the seed companies to hold all entities accountable for addressing these issues,” he said in a release. “With the help of our state legislative delegation, we have disclosure and buffer zones through the Good Neighbor Program.

Now, we’re moving toward the environmental public health impact study and this effort shows the county can support the state as it carries out its legal responsibilities.”

Project updates will eventually be posted at http://www.accord3.com/pg1000.cfm. Once the project starts, the public will be invited to recommend persons for consideration in the JFF group as well as citations and references on relevant studies. 

Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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