State agencies should work with our local farmers to solve problems and not create problems for them.

In South Kona, the Hawaii Department of Health told Waiea Aquaponics that a restaurant would not be allowed to buy its crops. The message came after a restaurant customer complained about an insect part traced to the farm’s lettuce.

The DOH decided to enforce a state rule against selling raw produce grown using water contaminated by animals. Thanks to a public outcry, the DOH recently retracted and is working to repeal the outdated rule because research shows that aquaponics produce is no more of a risk than produce grown in the soil.

The state recently passed a law requiring all homeowners to upgrade their cesspools to septic systems by 2050. During an Upcountry Maui meeting on Jan. 9, with the state Department of Health, a local Makawao sausage maker stood in a crowded room and recounted how the DOH has shut down his operation now, not because of contamination, but because — like the majority of us living outside urban Honolulu — his property has a cesspool.

Monsanto fields on Molokai. The author says the state should play a stronger role in regulating large-scale commercial agriculture. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The DOH has cut off a significant source of this small business owner’s income because upgrading his cesspool to a septic system will be a major financial burden. He wondered why he couldn’t continue with his business, allowing him to save money for the eventual upgrade.

At the same meeting, local, small-scale egg producers voiced that the DOH’s recent ruling that eggs cannot be sold unless washed in a commercial kitchen is, likewise, a significant financial and logistical burden on small farm operations.

Double Food Production? How?

These are just some examples of the sort of tight regulations our Hawaii government puts on small businesses trying to provide food security for our Hawaii families. At this rate it will be immensely difficult, if not impossible, to reach the governor’s goal to double food production by 2020.

Unfortunately, this is typical of our regulatory, public health and safety agencies who pick on small, local farm operations, but go far too easy on the multibillion dollar, transnational conglomerates. There is clear and overwhelming evidence that those large companies use dangerous chemical sprays which pose significantly greater risk to their employees, residents, and the environment.

Our government’s priorities when it comes to protecting public health, public safety and the environment, and when it comes to agriculture and food production, are completely backward. Where are the DOH regulators and regulations on protecting communities from exposure to poisons used on industrial agriculture fields which provide no food security benefits whatsoever? Their output is all exported.

Where is the oversight when companies dump chemicals into our soil and leak waste into our water table? Where is the outcry over Oahu’s Red Hill contamination, or Maui County’s illegal effluent injections in Lahaina? Why should it take a lawsuit from environmental watchdog groups before our government regulators do something about large scale polluters?

Without local farmers, we would be forced to rely solely on imported produce from pesticide sprayed foods.

Instead of making business impossible for small-scale farmers and innovative food-producers, our regulatory agencies should focus on holding large-scale industrial operations accountable. At the same time, our government should be helping to grow the diversified agricultural industry. In particular, it should invest in innovative, sustainable means of producing food, like aquaponics.

I fully support all the hardworking farmers who put their blood, sweat and tears into supplying our communities with pesticide-free, good, nourishing food. Even though they may not make a lot of money, these farmers work hard daily because they love what they do and want to provide healthy food for our communities.

We already import 90 percent of our food. Without these local farmers, we would be forced to rely solely on imported produce from pesticide-sprayed foods.

Enough is enough. It’s time to crack down on the real threats to public health, safety and the environment — industrial scale agro-chemical operations — and to find ways to support, not hinder, local, small-scale food producers that represent the future of a food-secure, sustainable Hawaii.

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