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Accountability from pesticide companies is sought

  • Karen Murray, left, and Diane Marshall, both Honolulu teachers, protest against Monsanto at a Waikiki Beach rally in Honolulu.


    Hawaii residents concerned about pesticides are planning a push to strengthen regulation over chemicals they fear harm their health. Above, a man wearing a gas mask protets against Monsanto at a rally in Honolulu, as part of an international day of protests.

Hawaii residents concerned about pesticide use by major agriculture companies on the islands are planning a push to strengthen regulation over chemicals they fear harm their health.

The divisive issue has drawn thousands to the Legislature in recent years following incidents where schoolchildren and agriculture workers fell ill and some suspected their sickness was connected to pesticides sprayed by seed testing companies.

Several major agriculture companies test genetically engineered crops on the islands, taking advantage of Hawaii’s year-round warm weather to develop new types of corn and soybeans and testing more generations of crops than they could in other states.

A recent study found there wasn’t enough evidence to show the pesticides used by Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer and BASF Plant Science on Kauai caused adverse health or environmental effects on the community. But the study encouraged the state to boost its environmental monitoring and data collection.

A court decision declaring it’s up to the state — not counties — to regulate agriculture and a change in committee leadership in the House have added momentum to the effort to enhance state regulation.

“With really focused public pressure, we could really see something get through. The time is right,” said Ashley Lukens, director of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety.

Advocates are pushing bills to require companies to fully disclose when and where they’re spraying pesticides and to mandate buffer zones around schools and hospitals. Another proposal calls for the state and counties to stop using sprays containing glyphosate, an herbicide originally brought to market by Monsanto.

“I’m hopeful that we’re not going to wait for a bad event and see some terrible sickness in our state,” said state Sen. Josh Green, an emergency room doctor who plans to introduce the glyphosate ban bill.

Hawaii recently initiated a study on Oahu and Kauai to sample surface water for pesticides before and during storms to evaluate whether chemicals are moving off-site at unacceptable levels.

The state also is planning to triple its fee to register pesticides to fund monitoring and to expand statewide the Kauai Good Neighbor Program — in which seed companies on Kauai voluntarily report their pesticide use monthly to the state.

But critics say the new programs fall short because reporting is voluntary and because the companies don’t disclose the location where the pesticide is sprayed.

Requiring companies to report spray locations could be tricky because fields where seeds are tested are generally spread out to avoid cross-pollination, and because it’s a competitive industry, said Scott Enright, chairman of the state Department of Agriculture.

“Even though they’re doing similar work, Syngenta, Monsanto Dow and Pioneer are all competitors, and they’re trying to keep the millions of dollars that they’ve put in to research the genetics lines that they’re developing as confidential business information,” Enright said.

Rep. Chris Lee, who plans to introduce buffer zone and disclosure bills, called the new state initiatives “woefully inadequate.”

“There’s still zero transparency for the long-term cumulative impacts on various communities around the islands for what’s being sprayed and any impact it may be having over the long term,” Lee said. “And that’s something that we have a clear obligation above anything else to dive into, because it is health and safety and people have a right to know.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently sought $5 million in fines from Syngenta, saying the company violated pesticide rules on Kauai by letting workers without protective gear enter fields recently sprayed with a restricted insecticide. Syngenta said it takes responsibility but believes the agency is overstepping.

The case will go before an EPA administrative law judge.

The seed industry takes the issue of pesticides very seriously, said Bennette Misalucha, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, which counts Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta among its members. It abides by state and federal regulations and rigorously trains employees, she said.

She added the industry objects to a “cookie cutter” approach to buffer zones because it could hurt small farmers, potentially removing chunks of land from production.

“You’re basically limiting somebody’s use of their private property, without just cause if you don’t have the science to back up what you’re asking for,” Enright said.

Although some states have tried to ban glyphosate, none have succeeded, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In 2015 the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization labeled glyphosate a “probable carcinogen.”

But the EPA said glyphosate has low toxicity to humans, and a joint meeting of a WHO group that assesses pesticide residues and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization concluded glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.

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      • Ok, let’s get something straight. GMO’s have NOT been proven safe.

        1. GMO stands for genetically Modified Organism. This includes any and all plants, animals, insects, bacteria, parasites and other living things whose DNA has been artificially engineered. Usually this is by inserting whole genes that code for proteins or other molecules that the organism would not normally make. You could engineer a bacteria that makes plant molecules, a plant that makes pig molecules, or a pig that makes insect molecules. For example, at Prof Yanigahara at UH inserted a luminescence gene from a marine organism to make green mice that glow in the dark.

        2. It is meaningless to ask the question, “Are GMO’s safe?” The proteins and other molecules engineered into these organisms can be “harmful” or “beneficial” or somewhere in between. It is as easy to insert the gene for snake venom into corn as it is to insert the gene for vitamin A into rice.

        3. The scientific meaningful questions about GMO’s are, “Is this specific modification to this specific organism, and for this specific environment and purpose and duration, safe or not?”

        4. Regarding safety, the specific environment that is exposed to a specific GMO is critical. For example, a toxic GMO plant that is confined to the laboratory or grown in a factory may be safe, but if released into the wild it could kill off honey bees or could cross-pollinate with wild varieties of the plant, making them toxic.

        5. Regarding safety, the duration also matters. Evaluating long-term toxic exposure often reveals harms that are not detected with shorter term studies.

        6. Regarding safety, the toxicity of associated technologies and practices is also relevant. For example, a specific GMO plant may be safe, but the chemicals required to cultivate it may not be.

        So, what does the current evidence show about the topic at hand, the safety of GMO food plants, especially corn? It shows that the types of modifications to the types of organisms, in the types of environments and purposes and short-durations (months and years, not decades or lifetimes), have not been shown to clearly cause harm to humans.

        The same could have been said for the Fukushima Daishi nuclear power plant that began construction in 1967, began operation in 1971, and operated “safely” for the next 40 years until an earthquake and meltdown on March 11, 2011 that contaminated surrounding region with deadly radioactivity and continues to spew radiation into the ocean.

        If scientist had been asked to study if the technology was safe, and they had relied on a 40 year study of radiation levels and health status of the people surrounding the facility, the unanimous conclusion would be that the powerplant is safe. We now know that the powerplant was not safe. What the 40 year track record actually showed was that the plant had not been harmful under the conditions that existed during that time, not that it was safe under all conditions.

        Compare Fukushima Daishi to the study of BT corn, one of the more worrisome GMO food crops being grown in Hawaii.

        BT stands for “bacterial toxin” because the corn is engineered with the gene that produces one or more proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. These proteins are known to be poisonous to certain insect pests that eat the corn plant’s leaves and stalks. Unlike organic gardeners who dust the surface of young corn plants with BT protein (so little or none is ever ingested), the genetically modified corn kernels of BT Corn are chock full of these toxic BT proteins. Just like the first 40 years of Fukushima Daishi, there is no evidence that BT corn has been harmful to humans and livestock with short-term use, but this is not the same as proving it is safe over the long-term, or that engineering corn with other toxins will be safe. Unlike Fukushima Daishi, the BT Corn dataset goes back less than a decade.

        Given the infinite combinations of organisms, genes and environments that are possible, evaluating the safety of genetic engineering is complex, far more complex than nuclear power. Clearly GMO plants can be engineered, cultivated and consumed safely, but this can also be done recklessly. Nuclear power is very tightly regulated, and we should expect the same for GMO’s and pesticides.

        Now back to the topic of this paper – Pesticide toxicity.

        Claims that science has proven that pesticides are safe suffer the same flaws as claims for GMO safety, including the fact that all pesticides are not the same, that short-term exposure studies don’t reveal long-term exposure risks, and that proving lack of harm from certain pesticides under limited conditions, settings and durations is not the same as saying they are safe. In fact, given that society has been using insecticide and herbicide chemicals for nearly a century, there is a historical pattern of repeated false claims of pesticide safety followed by severe harms to public health from toxicity.

        If unknown toxic effects from pesticides are detected sooner, fewer people will be exposed and harmed. Mandatory reporting of the type(s) of chemicals, dates, locations, amounts used and methods of application will allow early detection of public health problems from pesticides. Keeping this information secret for the sake of corporate profits puts the community at greater risk.

        For years, Senator Roz Baker has received the most money from the Agro-Chemical companies of any politician in Hawaii, and she has put their interests above the health of the people by killing each and every pesticide buffer zone and reporting bill before her committee, without even hearing them.

        Let’s hope that this year will be different, and that Roz Baker’s committee finally does its job of protecting consumer health and not the special interests of huge multinational Agro-Chemical Corporations.

        • Unfortunately the voters on Maui continue to re-elect Roz Baker and Joe Souiki which really does not say much for the voters on Maui.
          Baker is bought and paid for and will never do the right thing. She was a big time lobbyist in Washington DC before coming here.
          Taking “donations” from multi+national corporations such as Monsanto/Bayer, Sygenta, etc is just what she does. She is not alone at
          the legislature who have also been influenced to do these companies biding. Hard to imagine that they do not understand how truly evil
          these companies are and the damage they are doing to the health of millions of people. But I guess money and power are all that is important
          to these people. But more and more people are waking up to the danger these genetically modified franken foods pose. I just hope that
          the change comes before it is too late.

        • Some GMO food plants may be safe and beneficial and some little different from varieties obtained from traditional breeding techniques, but others are truly Frankenfoods.

          Most worrisome is the potential for inadvertently creating (and spreading) GMO plants that turn out to be harmful to humans and other species, cost the public huge sums to contain and destroy Hawaii’s reputation as a safe and natural place to visit.

          Unexpected harms from the release of a toxic GMO crop or from toxic production methods (pesticide applications) are most likely to occur first in areas near open air GMO test fields – which is what is happening in Hawaii. This is not good policy.

          Unregulated Agro-Chemical GMO test crops pose threats to public health and our tourism economy, provide marginal tax revenue, and do nothing to improve sustainable local ag or food security.

          If there is a GMO health disaster in Hawaii, it is unlikely these corporations will stick around to help clean it up. Instead, they’ll hire legal teams to dispute their responsibility, and at the heart of this strategy will be the lack of detailed data about their crops and production methods (i.e. pesticide uses).

    • At least Dr. Green knows much mich more about public health and our health system than all the arrogant lawyers and lobbyists clogging up the legislative process. He’s the best we got.

      BTW, why did Roz Baker take over the Senate health committee from Dr. Green after the 2015 Kouchi-coup? Apparently it was because of the pakalolo bill Baker was pushing.

      What are Roz Naker’s qualifications? She is a former DC lobbyist from Texas.

      Baker’s policy blunders have cost hundreds of $millions (Hawaii Health Connector, UH Cancer Center) and patient lives (deaths following lowered dental licensure standards and from zero oversight of access to care laws).

      Roz Baker has repeatedly killed every bill sent to her committees involving pesticide buffer zones and reporting, without any hearing or debate.

      When it comes to health policy, I’ll take a dedicated physician like Dr. Green over lawyers and political fat cats any day.

  • So theses ladies believe displaying a ripoff of a 50 year old slogan in front on The Duke will further their cause? They are displaying no class and no sensitivity. Therefore they have set back their cause.

  • If you create something bad it could infect the whole World crop. There is no guarantee. Humans been around for thousands of years. Why fix something that is not broken? We may just break it with GMOs. Their own workers got sick. Shows they have no common sense on it’s dangers or regard for Human life.

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