For those of us concerned about the increasing presence of pesticides in our food, water, land and air – there have been two recent and newsworthy developments here in Hawaii.
On June 25th, the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) announced a ban of herbicide use at all Hawaii public schools.
On June 27th, the USDA reported that GMO seed corn production has dramatically dropped statewide by well over 50%. Extrapolating: The amount or Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) that are applied in the islands are likewise reduced by 50% or more.
Translation: Our community is a safer and healthier place today than it was yesterday.
According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the DOE action came after a community meeting at Leilehua High School called by Board of Education Chairwoman Catherine Payne to hear concerns about the use of herbicides and pesticides at schools.
The following day Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, after hearing that Roundup was being used on some campuses, sent a memo to all principals stressing that herbicides are banned at Hawaii public schools. She also called for the immediate removal of any herbicides stored at schools.
Superintendent Kishimoto should be commended for her prompt action and follow through on this issue. While there is still work to be done in enforcing the DOE directive, the message to schools and principals statewide is loud and clear – the use of herbicides on public schools grounds is prohibited.
If herbicides can be banned by the DOE, what is to prevent similar action from being taken at County and State parks?
The strong and unequivocal action taken by the DOE would not have occurred without the active, informed and sustained community engagement supported by a broad coalition of individuals and organizations.
This represents a huge success in our communities ongoing effort to regulate dangerous chemicals on ALL islands.
The fact that the growing of experimental GMO corn and the related application of restricted use pesticides in Hawaii by the largest chemical companies in the world – has also been cut by half over the past 7 years – is also a huge and potentially even more significant development.
The official numbers speak for themselves.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently reported that statewide, GMO seed corn production in Hawaii has fallen by over 50% since 2011/2012 and today.
Both in terms of the estimated “value of the industry” and in terms of actual acres utilized, the shrinkage of the industry has been dramatic.
USDA latest reports on the size of the seed corn industry:
• 2011/2012 Value of Hawaii seed corn $230,000,000
• 2018/2019 Value of Hawaii seed corn $102,000,000
• 2011/2012 Total acreage of Hawaii seed corn 6,910 acres
• 2018/2019 Total acreage of Hawaii seed corn 2,530 acres
Note: The reduction of GMO seed corn acreage will not negatively impact Hawaii’s goal of food self-sufficiency. The vast majority of the GMO corn grown in Hawaii is for export and used primarily for cattle feed, high fructose corn syrup and ethanol. A tangible and positive impact of the industries decision to reduce the size of their operations could very well be the freeing up of additional lands (state owned agricultural lands), and at a lower cost – for use by small farmers and ranchers.
Summary of GMO seed corn grown in Hawaii can be found at: http://bit.ly/2FOE9at
What precipitated this huge reduction in Hawaii activity by Dow, Dupont, Syngenta, Monsanto, BASF and related companies? Though some have since changed their names, the underlying nature of their corporate operations (pesticide development and GMO seed development) has not. These corporations develop, produce, sell and use the pesticides. They also develop GMO plants to resist these same pesticides, allowing them to sell and use more of these products.
*Pesticide is a term used to include all herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, algaecides etc.
While not attempting to give credit or blame, on June 26, 2013 at or near the peak of GMO production and the related RUP use, Kauai County Bill 2491 proposing to regulate the industry was introduced. Since this time the constant negative media attention and seemingly endless lawsuits both locally and nationally have placed these companies under a withering microscope of scrutiny. Combine this with the passage of SB3095 in 2018, banning chlorpyrifos, requiring mandatory disclosure, and putting in place modest buffer zones around schools for ALL users of restricted use pesticides – and it’s no wonder this industry is seeking to reduce its footprint.
The official reasons given by industry representatives to the Honolulu StarAdvertiser are of course market related: “Hawaii’s seed crop industry has been shrinking…in large part because of maturing research, industry consolidation and corn price decreases…cost efficiencies have allowed companies to produce more seed at lower costs, and that this also has contributed to the declining measure of industry value.”
I have no doubt…but also no proof that the advocacy undertaken by our community and on all islands, has had an impact on the business decisions as to where to base and grow the operations of these chemical giants.
The risk managers of these international conglomerates know that in Hawaii there is more public action to come…more negative media attention, more legislation and more litigation. They also know that full disclosure (now mandated by state law via SB3095), means that residents (and lawyers) will know exactly what RUP’s were used, what day they were used and where they were used. With full disclosure comes the ability to finally study the health impacts on specific populations, and the ability of citizens (and lawyers) to make informed decisions.
If you have a child or a grandchild in public school, I encourage you to both celebrate and let your schools principal and teachers know of your support for the herbicide ban. If you live in an area that has historically been impacted by the pesticide intensive nature of industrial agriculture, likewise you should find some hope in the knowledge that the industries boot-print is shrinking, AND the benefits of SB3095 will soon be further impacting their operations – to your benefit.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the Hawaii State Senate, where he was Majority Leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.