HOOSER: Bill No. 2491, 8 years later

The story of Bill No. 2491, about how the people of Kaua‘i went to battle against the largest chemical companies in the world, is too long, too complex and too intense to tell in 600 words. If you’re interested, consider watching the documentary film “Poisoning Paradise,” free on Amazon Prime.

The question I hear often in the community today is, “So what has happened since then? Bill No. 2491 was defeated in court. So was it all worth it?”

Though, clearly, I am a biased voice, let’s look at exactly what has happened over the past eight years.

If one judges the state of the agrochemical industry on Kaua‘i by simply driving from Lihu‘e to Polihale, it looks like the chemical companies are leaving town. From the dilapidated appearance of numerous empty growing structures to the thousands of acres of fallow fields, it seems the writing’s on the wall.

Ten years ago, the GMO corn operations and their related intensive pesticide use stretched from fields located across from the Lihu‘e Airport to Kukui Grove Center to Kaua‘i Community College and followed the highway all the way to Polihale.

As far as the eye could see, for mile after mile, there was only corn, GMO corn grown by the agrochemical companies intended to produce ethanol, high fructose corn syrup and cattle feed.

Fortunately, the GMO corn that’s there today is growing in fields moved back off the highway and away from homes, businesses and public areas.

Eight years ago four chemical companies operated on Kaua‘i; Becks, Dupont, Dow and Syngenta. Today, there are two: Hartung Brothers (formerly Syngenta) and Corteva (formerly Dow/Dupont).

In sharp contrast to national and global trends, the agrochemical industry in Hawai‘i is in steep decline. The reason for this is debatable, but one need only review the information provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service to see the truth of their demise:

• In 2011-12 the “production value” of the seed industry statewide was $230 million. Today, it’s estimated at $107 million;

• In 2011-12 the industry exported 10.7 million pounds of seed. Today, that amount is estimated to be 2.83 million pounds.

Perhaps the most important statistic is the amount of acreage used.

In 2011-12 the industry utilized 6,910 acres for seed production, and in ‘20-‘21 it’s estimated they will use only 2,185 acres.

Wow. Just wow.

Half of the companies are gone, two-thirds of the acreage is no longer in production and, presumably, there are two-thirds less restricted-use pesticides (RUPs) being used.

Herbicides are no longer permitted for use at public schools.

No RUPs may be used within 100 feet of schools. There are bills currently planned for the coming legislative session to expand this distance.

Every application of RUPs in the entire state of Hawai‘i must now be disclosed and the information made public.

Two of the most toxic poisons (chlorpyrifos and atrazine) previously used by these companies are now banned in Hawai‘i.

The thousands of Kaua‘i residents who marched, who showed up to testify, who brought lawsuits against these companies, and who supported Bill 2491, should celebrate these accomplishments.

Because of you, Kaua‘i and the entire state of Hawai‘i is a safer and healthier place today than it was eight years ago.

What’s next? For starters, residents could ask the Kaua‘i County Council to do what Maui County has already done and what Hawai‘i County has on its agenda today — ban the use of cancer-causing herbicides like glyphosate on county-owned property (parks, etc.). Perhaps also, the state could detox/remediate the Agribusiness Development Corporation state-owned lands vacated by these companies and provide affordable leases to small farmers who actually grow food for human consumption.


Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.

  1. Zchechuan November 24, 2021 12:21 am Reply

    The pesticide use of chlorpyrifos, did they do away with this material already? Or is this investigation a sham. As I can recall, in 2013, the county council and the public had a debate over this issue. And as stated then, Bernard P. Carvalho jr. and some of your other county members were not qualified to debate on the matter. They lacked intelligence. With out any resume to their county council seat, they did not have any grounds to argue. So that means no pay. Or just nothing else ever became of it. There is no change of “venue”. And as such the vegetarian community did not take this to heart and still managed to still with effort pull through years after, and arguing that the pesticides actually causes cancer or long term defects.

    So nothing has changed. I am assuming this to be the case. Just the names of the companies have changed. Not the procedures.

  2. TomK November 24, 2021 3:31 am Reply

    Gary – While I agree with improving the health of the people and the environment, how many people did the Big Ag companies employ on the Island who are now gone? How many local Big Ag farm workers lost their jobs? What are they doing now? And what’s going to happen to the land that just sits fallow? Eliminating agriculture jobs (like voting against a dairy) limits employment to tourism. And 2019-2021 showed that’s a bad idea.

  3. KauaiFarmMan November 24, 2021 6:46 am Reply

    Leave it up to Gary to write an article that will gain him favor with just about anyone that lives on Kauai, so his next Democrat propaganda piece will be better received.
    They can spray a hundred feet away from a school ? The fires in Anahola a few weeks ago got ash on my car in Kapaa. Wind blows for miles , so I guess these companies are still poisoning us just from out of sight. Shameful

  4. Uncleaina November 24, 2021 8:51 am Reply

    Yeah you really destroyed Ag here guy. You seem really happy about that. Is there a shred of evidence that the island was ever seeing any negative effects from the GMO corn? GMO corn uses way less herbicides but you’re talking about pesticides here. Luckily most people don’t know the difference. I’m glad you’re proud of making a $230 million dollar industry- our second only to tourism- and turned it into a $107 million dollar industry. Woot woot! Let’s try to eliminate all jobs except tourism! The land lies fallow now – not replaced by organic farming or anything you claimed would happen. Just barren unused land and way less jobs. You proud?

  5. manawai November 24, 2021 9:08 am Reply

    What Mr. Hooser fails to observe here is that the real reason the seed companies cut back is that the price of corn dropped significantly due to the failure of ethanol to become the renewable energy source of choice for America. The USA had become a net exporter of oil at a cost cheaper than ethanol can be3 produced in this country. And don’t forget what it does to your gas tanks in absorbing water into your cars fuel system. Ethanol, which at one time was touted to be the new and greatest renewable/sustainable fuel source, is an economic failure, just like this author’s publishing business expertise. But with Biden’s attempts to kill our domestic oil business which merely transfers wealth to Russia and the Middle Eastern countries and thereby doing absolutely nothing for the climate, the price of corn may be rising again. Or is that just Biden’s success in producing the highest rate of inflation we’ve experienced in over 30 years. Good news for the lower income folks who now have to buy higher-priced Arabian-sourced gas just to get to work. Good job, Joe! You too, Gary!

  6. Will Davis November 24, 2021 7:29 pm Reply

    Excellent and uplifting review of the decline of pesticides associated with GMO crops Gary. Yes, correct, President Biden has just banned Chlorpyrifos in the USA. And yes Kauai needs to ban carcinogenic glyphosate (Roundup), because for one thing it is found in Kauai’s honey by Kauai’s scientist Dr Carl Berg. Many nations have banned Roundup. Russia has banned Monsanto’s GMO NK603 corn also because peer review research finds this NK603 corn causes gender specific tumors in female lab rats. Reference https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-014-0014-5

  7. Zchechuan November 26, 2021 2:55 pm Reply

    How many farmers do you think are on the GMO west Kekaha mana side of the island? What would be the labor force there? Of the labor force, how many people on Kaua’i are willing to work that kind of jobs? Conducive to hot weather year around. Possible dangers in health, like skin cancer. Poisoning. Also food poisoning from eating the corn there. Low wages. Hard conditions to work at times. A few farmers willing to go through this.

    How about their medical? Are they covered? Can they get a check up if needed. There are a lot of people who wants this farmer’s job. So no shortage of workers. My point is, can they survive this job? And not make it a medical hardship. Then it’s on the farmers, and not on the physicians when a physician is needed for the farmer to get a check up.

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