JFF report did not give clean bill of health

I’m concerned that recent press articles, and other reviews of the state/county Joint Fact Finding (JFF) report regarding pesticide impacts, have published some misleading information.

They summarize that no harm to health or environment has been found from seed companies spraying pesticides where people live near and/or work in the GMO seed fields on Kauai. The truth is that there wasn’t sufficient data available for the committee to generate scientifically accurate conclusions, in part, due to the lack of disclosure of specifically where and when pesticides have been applied by the seed companies.

In addition, the Westside population is too small to capture statistically significant data on health impacts. It would have been more accurate for those reviews to have reported that the JFF committee was unable to determine, one way or the other, if pesticides impacted health of people and environment, due to lack of sufficient data on which to support a conclusion.

I attended the April 4 presentation of the report by the JFF committee and want to thank them for their insightful work that entailed spending countless hours over a several-month span. Conflicting views became apparent that evening, especially between the two representatives of GMO companies and the remaining six committee members, all of whom have scientific backgrounds to draw upon. A consensus? I don’t think so. Committee members revealed some startling facts as well why there isn’t sufficient data. Some members contended that not only does more local research need to be done, but it is also critical to consider long-term studies of pesticide impacts on farmers and their families elsewhere. Here are recommendations made by JFF report that can be read online: (www.accord3.com/pg1000.cfm).

– Create and enforce pesticide buffer zones

– Mandatory and thorough disclosure of pesticide use (both restricted use and general use)

– Collect more accurate Kauai health data that helps scientists identify links between pesticides and health impacts on Kauai children, babies and families

– Air, soil and water testing

Opponents, mostly agrochemical companies, are attacking the JFF report. It’s prudent of the JFF to recommend the urgent need for on-going monitoring or we lose the advantage of time when again waiting for conclusive results. It should be noted here that it is not unusual when the “best available science” is neither sufficient nor conclusive to invoke the “precautionary principle” — erring on the side of protecting human health and the environment until the analysis is conclusive (clearly, the European approach to the use of specific pesticides).

Additionally, and as recognized by at least some of the JFF members at the April 4 public meeting, another approach is to extrapolate from some of the thorough analysis (and rule-making) approaches undertaken in California, particularly in regards to human health impacts.

I was shocked to hear that the Hawaii State Department of Agriculture restrictions and requirements for pesticide spraying are sorely lacking compared to more stringent ones in California. Buffer zones around communities (and schools) are minimal here, as is transparency. Requirements and regulations for seed companies to log and report their spraying schedule as well as the amount and kind of pesticide, especially restricted use pesticides (RUP), is insufficient.

Several states, and even countries, have banned pesticides that are still permitted in Hawaii. Nor is there a law in our state DOA that considers the potential chemical interaction of the chemicals, which are mixed together (stacked) in a single spray, even though it’s documented that chemical toxicity may be greater than the sum of its parts.

Thus, the incident of dozens of sick children throwing up at Waimea Canyon Middle School, located next to fields that had recently been sprayed with four stacked pesticides, reeks of denial as Stink Weed continues to be identified as the culprit.

My recent alumni magazine (California) from UC Berkeley featured an article about the university’s long-term study investigating the impact of pesticides on children of farm workers in the Salinas Valley, California. Of 78 papers published since 1999, the most recent report was the first to link certain lung conditions in children to chronic, low-level exposures to organophosphate pesticide chemicals that attack the nervous system.

My questions are, what can we learn and implement from other places that may prevent harm to children on the Westside who are exposed to low-level pesticides from birth? And how can we stand by and watch agro-chemicals (18 tons of RUP sprayed on 1,841 acres over 20 months), pollute our water, air and soil on this small island whose ecosystem is considerably more vulnerable than extensive tracts of intensively farmed land on the Mainland?

Thank you councilman Gary Hooser for your work, digging deep in order to reveal the truth about the effects of pesticide pollution, communicating with the seed companies, and persistently working toward a solution.

Let’s work together to restore the true meaning of “The Garden Island,” where our soil supports growing nourishing food and contributes to food security for our little island without poisoning land, air, water or people.

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Gabriela Taylor is a resident of Kauai.

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