GMO seed companies on Thursday criticized a new government report that calls for heavier regulation of pesticide use in Hawaii, saying it “raises unfounded and unsubstantiated fears about chronic exposure and chemicals in general.”
The director of the state Department of Agriculture didn’t seem to welcome several of the report’s recommendations either. He emphasized that the report found no statistically significant evidence that pesticide use by large agricultural companies has harmed Kauai’s environment or the health of residents.
The seed companies liked that part as well, even though the report said serious data gaps hindered the analysis.
Released Thursday, the preliminary report was the work of a diverse group of eight stakeholders that included two seed company representatives. It was unclear Thursday whether all the group members concurred with all the recommendations, which echoed an earlier version of the report obtained Wednesday by Civil Beat.
The state and Kauai County spent $175,000 on the study in response to residents’ concerns about the health and environmental impacts of genetically modified crops.
The new report calls for some of the same regulations that law sought to impose, including buffer zones around areas where large amounts of restricted-use pesticides are applied, and requirements that seed companies disclose after the fact what restricted-use pesticides they used, how much, and where.
Both are policy initiatives consistently pushed by advocacy groups like the Center for Food Safety but rejected by the Legislature as recently as this year.
“Our view is that while focused and comprehensive regulation is important, the report’s unsystematic approach is not based on scientific findings, and will create substantial additional costs for taxpayers and consumers,” Bennette Misalucha, executive director of the local seed industry trade group Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, said in an emailed statement.
Association members include Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences and BASF, multi-billion-dollar multinational agricultural companies that farm thousands of acres in Hawaii and produce the state’s largest export crop, seed corn.
The Joint Fact Finding report was conducted by Peter Adler of the consulting firm Accord3.0. and eight participants, including employees of DuPont Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences.
It urged state agencies and lawmakers to take numerous steps to improve data collection.
Adler said earlier this week that the report reflects “general concurrence” among the study group, but that individual members may have their own reservations and will be able to note them in the appendix of the final report.
Advocates for more transparency regarding pesticide use in Hawaii heralded the findings.
“They haven’t demonstrated that there is a problem but they’re trying to fix it.” — Scott Enright, state Agriculture Deparment
“This report has reinforced the need for better regulations, meaningful protections and a complete transformation of our agricultural sector. We have waited far too long for this fact finding report and we are still waiting for action,” Kauai resident Fern Ānuenue Rosenstiel said in a press release issued by the Center for Food Safety on Thursday. “I call on all officials on all levels of government to help protect our communities and homes. The time is now.”
But it’s questionable whether there’s the political will to implement the recommendations.
The report urges Gov. David Ige to take the lead in reforming pesticide regulations. A spokeswoman for the governor referred questions Thursday to the Agriculture Department’s Enright, who had his reservations.
He told Civil Beat he doesn’t think his department will move forward with imposing buffer zones; requiring that field workers who apply restricted-use pesticides undergo mandatory medical checks; and establishing a lower benchmark for chronic exposure to pesticides, which he said is the job of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Enright said the Joint Fact Finding group’s most important finding is that there isn’t statistically significant evidence proving that genetically modified crops are harming Kauai’s environment or residents.
“We need better data. Unless there’s more systematic information, it’s really hard to make more conclusive judgments.” — Peter Adler
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report stated that Kauai voters approved Bill 2491 instead of the County Council.
“The heated rhetoric of the testimony of Bill 2491 (the measure that the Kauai County Council approved but a judge overturned) made a case that the west side of Kauai was drenched in pesticides and that there were these amazing environmental and public health concerns that could have easily been substantiated,” he said. “A group that took a real critical look at it decided that none of that could be substantiated.”
Enright did say he wants to take up some of the report’s recommendations, including increasing monitoring of surface water and beehives and increasing pesticide registration fees. But he’s not convinced that other proposals, such as creating buffer zones, are justified.
“Had they substantiated the claims of 2491, I think I would feel really pressed to try to jump on this but to the extent that we haven’t demonstrated that there’s a problem…,” he said. “You demonstrate that there is a problem and then you adjust accordingly. They haven’t demonstrated that there is a problem but they’re trying to fix it.”
The report called upon Kauai’s state lawmakers to take the lead in requesting $3 million to fund better pesticide regulations. Reps. Derek Kawakami and Dee Morikawa both seemed open to that idea Thursday, but Morikawa said she didn’t agree with the proposal to require companies to disclose pesticide use data statewide.
Senate President Ronald Kouchi, the most influential member of the Kauai delegation who has previously opposed adding pesticide regulations, did not respond to a request for comment.
Adler said Thursday that the Joint Fact Finding group welcomes “factual additions from the seed companies and critics.” The group is accepting comments until April 8 and will revise the analysis based on public input.
“This really is a process by which we want to improve the report,” Adler said.
He said the recommendations for more sampling and disclosure of pesticide use are based on the many data gaps that hampered the analysis.
“We need better data,” he said. “Unless there’s more systematic information, it’s really hard to make more conclusive judgments.”
Read the report published Thursday below and send comments to email@example.com: