- Special Projects
Hawaii needs to do a better job of determining the health and environmental effects of the chemicals that genetically modified seed and coffee companies spray on their crops, according to the final joint fact-finding report commissioned by the state and Kauai County.
Based on what’s known, the pesticides sprayed by agribusinesses are not posing any serious threats to humans, plants, animals or water sources, according to the study. But data gaps in monitoring and surveillance prevent definitive conclusions.
The final report, released Wednesday, provided more details than the draft that came out in March but maintained the original recommendations, including requirements that GMO seed companies disclose what restricted-use pesticides they used, how much, and where.
There was additional information in the final report about the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in various areas and it clarified recommendations related to a buffer zone policy, future monitoring and data collection.
Peter Adler, a mediator at the consulting company ACCORD3.0 Network, served as project director for the $175,000 study. He and Keith Mattson, assistant project director, said in the final report that none of the recommendations should significantly impinge upon the seed companies’ ability to continue operating.
“The recommendations do not appear to be anything more than some other states are already doing for pesticide regulation and reporting, including California which has the nation’s largest agricultural economy,” they wrote. “Taken together, they simply urge the state to reduce some of the remaining uncertainty by more carefully monitoring pesticide use and the community’s health.”
Gov. David Ige said in a statement that he is open to all of the recommendations.
“It’s important to note that the study did not demonstrate a causal relationship between agricultural pesticide use and environmental or human health problems on West Kauai,” Ige said. “But the most important takeaway is that there is a lot we don’t know.”
He said his administration is in the process of prioritizing recommendations for short-term action.
“We are not rejecting any at this time and will examine each carefully with the intent of improving the safe use of pesticides in Hawaii,” Ige said.
“One of the recommendations I find compelling is the Rapid Response protocols that would deploy in the event of a pesticide incident,” he said. “This would effectively use limited state resources to address the most critical issues.”
The state Department of Agriculture, headed by Scott Enright, said in a statement that officials were pleased the report dispelled inaccurate claims about genetically engineered seed companies “drenching” the west side of Kauai with pesticides and causing a litany of health and environmental problems.
Enright said his office will move forward reviewing and implementing many of the recommendations to continue to ensure that agricultural pesticide use is being done safely.
The fact-finding group lost three of its members before the final report came out.
Gerardo Rojas Garcia, a site manager at Dow AgroSciences, and Sarah Styan, a senior research manager at DuPont Pioneer, resigned in April. And Roy Yamakawa, retired county administrator for the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, resigned in January.
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.
In the final report, Adler and Mattson addressed the early departure of members representing the seed industry.
“Retrospectively, some who originally thought the JFF panel was reasonable in its composition at the start now argue otherwise when the substantive results don’t favor their opinions,” they wrote. “Regardless of the bumps in the process, the report contains an excellent analysis of the available local data in response to the specific questions raised.”
They explained how the group inventoried available peer-reviewed medical and environmental studies, all locally available data that could address their questions, and held numerous listening sessions. They heard from leaders in the biotechnology industry, state and county government, west side community members, non-governmental organization advocates and critics, public health scientists from California and Colorado, and others.
“Absolutists on each end of GMO/Pesticide debate spectrum will continue to be severe critics of any and all proposals that do not suit their goals,” Adler and Mattson wrote. “That is their self-declared mandate, and they will continue to make the most noise as they attack their opponents’ beliefs while defending their own. However, we believe the true larger body politic — the 80% to 90% in the middle — are interested in better information to help shape their opinions.”
The project directors said some may complain that the group recommended doing either too much or too little to address the situation, but they believe the recommendations are a practical and pragmatic way to proceed.
“One of the key outcomes of this effort is that much more is now known about pesticide use on Kauai, but there is simply not enough information to definitively conclude if its use by the seed companies plays any adverse role in the health of Kauai’s residents or environment,” Adler and Mattson wrote.
The Hawaii Center for Food Safety issued a news release praising the study and its implications, a sentiment shared by other public-interest groups such as Sierra Club of Hawaii, Earthjustice and the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action.
“There is no doubt that pesticide usage is negatively impacting community health in Hawaii,” said Danya Hakeem, the center’s program director. “But the debate over genetic engineering and pesticides has become so contentious. We must continue to engage voices from all sides of the debate, and support processes to help us resolve difficult issues.”
Nomi Carmona, president of Babes Against Biotech, said the report underscores the tragic lack of proper pesticide protections in Hawaii.
“Why has it taken so long and why are we still debating whether or not dangerous poisons in our communities should be disclosed, minimized and thoroughly monitored?” she said. “Upton Sinclair said it best, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.'”
Garcia, of Dow AgroSciences, had told Adler in his resignation letter that the group “failed in its mission to remain ‘fact-based.’”
“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 said at the time.
Styan, of DuPont, has called the process “biased and conducted with an unscientific agenda in pursuit of an indefensible outcome.”
The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, a trade group representing the seed companies, issued a statement Wednesday that said the final report shows the group’s 15-month investigation into the seed and coffee industry was unable to validate any of the “wild health and environmental claims.”
“While the JFF took a very aggressive tone and sometimes complained about the quality of the data it found, it could identify no health or environmental impacts associated with the industry’s pesticide use,” the association said.
“We thank our legislators and administrators for waiting until the facts were in, and we remain confident that science-based regulatory oversight will substantiate the industry’s level of care. One takeaway from this process is that the robust nature of the existing regulatory system ensures that the public is well-protected.”
“The capability exists to determine how much pesticide application activity occurs at a particular location and at a given time; however it is not currently being done.” — Joint Fact-Finding Report
Malia Kahale‘ina Chun, a mother, educator, and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner in Kekaha, said in the release from the Hawaii Center for Food Safety that she has children who have tested positive for 36 pesticides in their system, eight of them restricted use.
“I met with Governor Ige about this problem once already,” she said. “My family and my community cannot wait any longer. I am confident that he understands that the time for action is now.”
The report found that four seed companies on Kauai used 23 restricted use pesticides containing 16 active ingredients from December 2013 to July 2015. They sprayed an estimated 36,240 pounds during that 20-month period. They collectively farmed 1,841 acres, mostly on the west side.
State and county government leaders say they’ve made some progress already.
The report called for $3 million in state funds to allow state agencies to implement the recommendations. The state budget for fiscal 2017, which starts July 1, includes $500,000 for monitoring and studies.
The Department of Agriculture has started with its review and updating Hawaii’s pesticide laws and regulations, as called for in the report, and is looking to increase the registration fees for restricted use pesticides.
The Department of Agriculture said the Good Neighbor Program, launched in early 2014, is continuing on Kauai, and is ready to be expanded statewide.
The final report said that the program has provided a “reasonable start” towards greater disclosure, but it is inadequate because it remains voluntary and unaudited with no real oversight from the Department of Agriculture.
The study noted the program also fails to report precisely when and where applications occurred; it does not report on general use pesticide usage, especially those like glyphosate and Malathion, which are under scientific and regulatory scrutiny; and it does not report on Special Local Need Label Registrations that allow for some exceptions to legal labels.
The state departments of Agriculture, Health, Land and Natural Resources will be coordinating rapid response protocols for pesticide exposure incidents with county first responders, according to the Department of Agriculture.
And at the encouragement of Senate President Ron Kouchi of Kauai, the departments of Health and Agriculture have been developing protocols for both surface water and air-monitoring studies that will be implemented this year, according to the Department of Agriculture.
The final report said measurement of agricultural land use and activities is critical for statistical studies about health, community awareness and incident response.
“The availability of reliable base maps or accurately referenced geographic data is limited, poorly maintained, or restricted which obstructs the production of accurate footprints,” the study said. “Regular updates of geographic data at County or island level are not occurring.”
“The robust nature of the existing regulatory system ensures that the public is well-protected.” — Hawaii Crop Improvement Association
The report also said seed companies could provide greater public access to their field base maps and the geographic coordinates and identifiers of their pesticide application data in a manner that doesn’t compromise business practices or security.
“The capability exists to determine how much pesticide application activity occurs at a particular location and at a given time; however it is not currently being done,” the study said. “This information is essential for performing future environmental and health impact studies.”
Last month, the EPA released a statement concluding that chlorpyrifos and Malathion threaten 97 percent of endangered species. Hawaii, known as the “endangered species capital of the world,” is losing plants and animals to extinction faster than anywhere else.
The study said no recent local data connecting pesticide use to problems with insectivores such as birds and bats has been found, but analytical studies of wildlife are yet to be done.
Read the full study below.