- Special Projects
Two seed industry employees have dropped out of a fact-finding group that was charged by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and Kauai County to evaluate the environmental and health impacts of agricultural pesticide use on Kauai.
Gerardo Rojas Garcia, a site manager at Dow AgroSciences, and Sarah Styan, a senior research manager at DuPont Pioneer, resigned Saturday from the group, which was led by Peter Adler, a mediator at the consulting company ACCORD3.0 Network.
“It is my conclusion that this (Joint Fact Finding) group under your direction has failed in its mission to remain ‘fact based,'” Garcia wrote in his resignation letter to Adler on Monday.
He said he had trusted Adler to “let facts and science be the foundation” of the analysis, but “that did not happen at every level.”
“Having members of the group participate on assumptions of their personal opinion and allow their views to be accepted against countless studies provided by the public is simply wrong,” Garcia wrote.
Styan appeared to agree. She wrote in her resignation letter that “the process has been biased and conducted with an unscientific agenda in pursuit of an indefensible outcome.”
“This JFF effort has resulted in a grave disservice to the community as the draft report and very likely the final report and recommendations, are not fact-based, are misleading, are unclear, and have no connection with the evidence,” she wrote.
The state and county commissioned the $175,000 report in response to widespread concerns by Kauai residents regarding the impact of genetically engineered crops on public health and the environment.
In a phone interview, Adler said that he was sorry that Garcia and Styan left and was surprised by their departure. He did not comment on why they left because he had not received their resignation letters at the time of the interview.
It’s not the first time someone has left the Joint Fact-Finding group, which Adler describes on his website as “a rigorous, facilitated process that engages stakeholders, rights-holders, and scientific and technical experts in an analytical dialogue to resolve or narrow factual disputes.”
Roy Yamakawa, retired county administrator for the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, resigned Jan. 3.
The remaining members include organic farmer Louisa Wooton; Adam Asquith, who holds a doctorate in entomology and works at the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program; Lee Evslin, a semi-retired physician; Kathleen West-Hurd, an expert in planning and land use; retired surgeon Douglas Wilmore; and Kawika Winter, director of the Limahuli Garden and Preserve.
A draft version of the group’s report published March 9 said that there’s no statistically significant evidence that genetically modified farming has harmed the health of Kauai residents or the island’s environment, but emphasized missing data on pesticide applications and health trends hindered the analysis.
It called for the county, state and federal government to strengthen regulation of pesticide use by requiring buffer zones and mandatory disclosure of what chemicals companies apply, where, and in what amounts. Activists have been urging the Hawaii Legislature to adopt such laws for years.
Bennette Misalucha, executive director of the seed industry trade group Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, issued a statement saying that the trade industry cannot speak for any of the members who dropped out, but hopes that the final version of the report will reflect community feedback.
The trade group’s comments on the report were highly critical.
“We would like to reiterate our opinion that the language of this draft report indicates that the Joint Fact Finding Group was likely influenced by the anti-industry preconceptions of the majority of its members,” the organization wrote in its comments on the draft report. “Significant corrections, clarifications, and revisions must be made to ensure the report has a factual basis and maintains consistency with the guidelines set out originally to help ensure that the intent of this report was met.”
Advocacy groups that support greater regulation of agricultural pesticides have generally praised the Joint Fact Finding report. Eighteen environmental organizations signed onto comments that called the report “excellent” and “comprehensive” while offering several pages of suggestions for improving the draft.
Adler said it will likely take until the end of the month, or possibly longer, to review all of the comments.
“Those who remain are committed to doing good work and thorough work,” he said.
He said he hopes that the “procedural drama” of losing members doesn’t detract from the final report.
“The product needs to rise or fall or stand on its own merits,” he said.