Seed companies reps vacate pesticide study group

LIHUE — Two seed industry members of the Joint Fact Finding Group that released a draft report of pesticide use by agribusiness on Kauai in February have resigned.

Gerardo Rojas, a site manager at Dow AgroSciences and Sarah Stylan, a senior research manager at DuPont Pioneer, “resigned abruptly at a JFF meeting” on April 9, according to Peter Adler, leader of the Accord 3 — the organization that facilitated the $175,000 study.

“They had objections to the process and frustrations with the recommendations,” Adler said on Tuesday.

The purpose of the April 9 meeting was to analyze the more than 200 public comment submissions on the draft report — which was released in early February — and how to incorporate the corrections and factual additions into the report.

“I regret their loss and think it was premature and unnecessary,” Adler said. “Others in the JFF feel the same way. They both made important contributions and helped craft the recommendations that were made public.”

Rojas and Stylan could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. But in his resignation letter to Adler, Rojas wrote: “It is my conclusion that this JFF group under your direction has failed in its mission to remain ‘fact based.’

“I spent many hours of my time without compensation to make a contribution to help our community heal. I feel that the community has come together on many levels and is not divided when education and science prevail.”

In her resignation letter, Styan wrote: “As you know, I have been very committed to this process as a means to gather facts about pesticide use on Kauai which could serve as a basis for a more respectful and fact-based discussion in our community. Unfortunately, the process has been biased and conducted with an unscientific agenda in pursuit of an indefensible outcome.”

“This JFF effort has resulted in a grave disservice to the community as the draft report and very likely the final report and recommendations, are not fact-based, are misleading, are unclear, and have no connection with the evidence,” she wrote.

Jeri Di Pietro, founder of Hawaii SEED, said the resignation shows disrespect.

“The resignation of the two industry employees after the draft report was presented and prior to the final report, exhibits a lack of respect for the JFF group’s dedicated, year-long process, of which they played a major role,” Di Pietro said.

Gary Hooser, Kauai council member and president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, said the late exit of the two industry employees turned the process into a “win/lose game.”

“Their coordinated action in walking away at this late stage is clearly intended to prevent the release of the report’s findings and to sabotage the entire effort,” Hooser said. “I am hopeful that the remaining members of the JFF group continue with their work and issue the final report as planned.”

Adler said the goal of the entire effort hasn’t changed with the exodus of the two members — the group is still looking for logical, factual recommendations for good pesticide use practices.

“Most of the recommendations in the draft address the need for better monitoring, health studies, and incident responses,” Adler said. “We could have used Gerardo and Sarah’s continuing views and will continue to try to incorporate their best data and information.”

Adler pointed out “much has already been accomplished,” by the preliminary draft.

Monday, a house bill relating to the state agricultural budget included a $500,000 readjustment in the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s 2016-2017 budget.

The recommendation suggests the money, in general funds, be used to “address concerns related to pesticide use,” according to the bill. The funds would be used to increase pesticide regulations and to strengthen data collection, as well as establish new standards for chronic, low-level exposure to pesticides.

“The six remaining members of the JFF group and my team are committed to finishing the effort with diligence and integrity,” Alder said. “I urge everyone to judge the effort not by the departure of those who had seed company affiliations, but by the final product itself.”

Currently the group is going through public comments and incorporating them into the draft report and will move forward toward the final report once all the comments have been assimilated.

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