LIHUE — Are the pesticides being used by Kauai’s biotech seed industry impacting the health and environment of the island and its residents? And if so, how?
Those are the main questions nine Kauai residents have been tasked with answering over the next year as members of a newly formed Joint Fact-Finding Group.
In other words, their job is to separate facts from fear.
Adam Asquith, one of the panelists, said it is an important issue for the community.
“A lot of people are going to benefit from it,” said Asquith, who holds a Ph.D. in entomology and is the Kauai extension specialist for the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program.
The $100,000 study is 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.
Asquith said Adler put together a solid team of people who, for the most part, have backgrounds in science.
“All our plates are full, but we all, I think, gladly found time to devote to this,” Asquith said.
Panelist Dr. Lee Evslin, a semi-retired physician and board certified pediatrician, said he is looking forward to being part of such an important project and gathering good science — something he feels has been missing from the discussion.
To be done properly, Evslin said it is going to take a fair amount of work on each panelist’s part.
“I’m feeling optimistic,” he said.
The initial meeting of the group is being scheduled for early March. They will not produce original research, but rather collect, summarize and discuss existing evidence.
Kauai County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said that while the panelists appear to have high intellectual capacities, she has concerns about balance and “whether there are enough people that are grounded in the community.”
Despite her instincts, however, Yukimura said it is important to move forward and trust in the process.
“We are using or exploring a new way to address the hotly contested issue,” she said.
To do the job right, the JFF group will need the freedom and time to look at the issues in depth and outside of the fiery political atmosphere, Yukimura said.
In addition to people with backgrounds in medicine, botany, horticulture and agriculture, the panel includes two representatives of Kauai’s seed industry.
Gerardo Rojas Garcia holds a master’s degree in agricultural engineering and is Kauai research and development site leader for Dow AgroSciences. Sarah Styan holds a Ph.D. in horticulture and is senior research manager for Global Marker Technologies at the DuPont Pioneer Waimea Research Station.
Neither Garcia nor Styan could be reached for comment.
Panelist Louisa Wooten, an organic farmer and independent organic inspector, said she is flattered to serve and stressed the importance of having balanced perspectives, which she feels there are.
“I think the important thing for me is that we stay focused on the purpose, which is not to go into the greater debate about transgenic science,” she said. “I don’t think that’s really appropriate for this.”
Other panelists are Kathleen West-Hurd, Dr. Douglas Wilmore, Kawika Winter and Roy Yamakawa.
Chris D’Angelo can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.