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.