Time for our leaders to protect public interest

In The Garden Island, Feb. 19 I read with dismay, but not surprise, that House Bill 2564 (which would create pesticide buffer zones around five schools statewide as a pilot project) was “deferred” by the Hawaii State House Agriculture Committee, essentially killing this bill for this legislative session — a repeat of last year. Monsanto, Dupont and the Department of Agriculture testified against HB 2564.

Meanwhile, if passed, Senate Bill 3046 will prohibit local (county) government from enacting any control of farmers and ranchers that employ practices not prohibited by federal or state law, rules or regulations, and Senate Bill 985 will prohibit counties or the state from enacting anything that abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ generally accepted agricultural technology and practices.

The cards are being aggressively stacked against “we the people” by those who care more about their profits and their supporters in government, than about your health or the health of the natural world that we all rely on for life and for which humanity has a responsibility to maintain and protect.

The problem is that there are many examples of “generally accepted” practices that have turned out to be highly damaging and all of these practices have been allowed (ie. not prohibited) under federal and/or state law.

The chemo-ag companies are fond of telling us that their products and technologies are “safe” and that the use of pesticides and GMO are “well regulated.” Safe for whom, and well regulated by whom? Any word ending in “cide” has to do with death. Pesticides kill pests … but they also kill or harm many other organisms that are not target species, from good soil bacteria, beneficial insects like bees, to birds, fish and people.

There is a very large and rapidly growing body of published, peer-reviewed scientific papers that show the depth, breadth and scope of these negatives impacts. Yet these “side effects” are not part of the equation when industry says that more good than harm is caused by use of their products. Meanwhile, government has moved so far out of governing in the public interest that decision makers do not even consider these so called “external costs.”

It is left to the public to bear the burden of toxic/dead soil that produces food having little nutritional value and high levels of pesticide residues, poisoned air and water, depleted ecosystems, and sick children, and to taxpayers to pay for government-supported medical treatments and environment clean-up and remediation where this is possible.

The people of Kauai need to understand that the two Senate bills noted above would prohibit the state or county from stopping the industrial dairy proposed at Maha’ulepu, as long as the technologies and practices proposed are “generally accepted,” presumably within the industry itself.

So, we have a self-supporting feedback loop internal to the industry and the government departments that no longer regulate industry in the public interest but actively promote the industry. Where government used to regulate and inspect, we now have industry self-regulation. How convenient for industry; how dangerous for the public interest.

It is time for all of us to let our elected representatives know that we demand that they craft laws that protect the public interest while supporting sustainable food production. The time to do this is now. Tell them that we do not need death-dealing poisons and uncontrolled and dangerous genetic experiments.

Profitable organic and regenerative agriculture practices are well known both in America and around the world, where they produce affordable, abundant and nutritious foods. We do not need new money to effect this transition. Billions of tax dollars are now spent on subsidies to unsustainable monocultural and chemical-dependent agribusiness.

We must divert these funds to support farmers as they adopt sustainable organic and regenerative farming practices to produce healthy food.

Let us support conscious farmers to grow healthy food and to improve the soil and water quality. Let us elect and support conscious leaders to represent us and the public interest.

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Michael Coon is a marine biologist who lives in Koloa.

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