The Hawaii Department of Agriculture has started posting data on what kinds of restricted-use pesticides large agricultural companies apply each month and in what amounts.
The data is part of a voluntary program in which Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Mycogen Seeds, Dow AgroSciences and Kauai Coffee Co. voluntarily report what chemicals they apply. The information also includes the size of the area where the pesticides were used.
The database — which you can access here — doesn’t include exact locations where chemicals were applied and isn’t comprehensive. For example, information from Monsanto is only available for January 2017, while the information about general-use pesticides applied by DuPont Pioneer on Oahu goes back to February 2016.
Kauai companies have been contributing to the voluntary database, known as the Good Neighbor Program, since December 2013. State Agriculture Department Director Scott Enright has been talking about expanding the program statewide for a year and a half.
Enright said Friday that in addition to posting monthly pesticide use data, participating companies will adopt buffer zones after consulting with neighbors.
Bennette Misalucha, who leads the local trade group for seed companies, said last month that the industry is “stepping up” and wants to show the community that it takes pesticides seriously.
Ashley Lukens, who leads the Hawaii chapter of the national advocacy group Center for Food Safety, said the release of any additional information about pesticide use is good, but that the data is inadequate, in part because it doesn’t include any information on what general-use pesticides like glyphosate and dicamba are being applied.
Lukens also said that the data isn’t standardized because the companies use varying terminology.
“Voluntary programs have an abysmal history of regulatory failure, particularly when it comes to environmental protection,” Lukens said. “I think more transparency is always an improvement, but this is in no way a replacement for mandatory disclosure.”
Enright said that the Agriculture Department has been double-checking data with companies every six months to make sure the sales data they report correlates with their usage logs. He plans to standardize the practice going forward as part of the Good Neighbor Program.
“Whether we get the information voluntarily, whether we get it as mandatory, it’s really about verifying that’s what’s going on on the plantation,” he said. “It would be a bad business decision for these companies to not be complying with good faith because if they get busted then they start to look like the villainizing roles that they’re often cast in at the Legislature.”
He added that he will continue to “work with the public to get them the kind of information they think is necessary for health and safety.”
On Thursday, the state House decided to shelve a bill that would have forced companies to let people know when and where pesticides are applied and in what amounts.
That’s disappointing to Milton Clark, a former senior health and science adviser for the federal Environmental Protection Agency and now an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois School of Public Health who specializes in the link between pesticides and public health.
Clark, who worked as a consultant on the Kauai study, wrote in an email Friday that the new data isn’t very useful because it doesn’t say specifically what fields were treated or give neighbors advance notification of pesticide application.
“The Hawaii good neighbor pesticide program does not protect vulnerable populations, especially children and pregnant women,” he wrote.