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‘Understaffed and under resourced’

Story by: Alden Alayvilla

Currently, there are four pesticide inspectors and two pesticide case developers responsible for ensuring that biotech companies follow the state of Hawai‘i’s guidelines on pesticide usage on farms.


Depending on the nature of the complaint, inspectors will collect soil, plant and swab samples as well as collect testimony to prove pesticide misuse. Those four inspectors do the work that 20 are supposed to do if the Hawaii Department of Agriculture had unlimited funding.


In addition, case developers take evidence gathered from the inspectors and review the data to determine if federal laws were breached. Currently there are two case developer. If well-funded, the State could use four.


Department of Agriculture officials say budget constraints are to blame, but lawmakers argue that the Department of Agriculture (DOA) prioritizes farming over human health.


The lack of personpower, those skeptical of pesticide use say, is just one example of how Hawai‘i’s regulatory apparatus doesn’t provide the public with enough information about what pesticides biotechnology companies are releasing into the environment.


In addition to the inspector shortage, some state officials and lawmakers cite as ineffective a voluntary program that asks companies to disclose information about the pesticides they are using.


Tom Matsuda, the DOA’s pesticide program manager, said the state could have 20 pesticide enforcement inspectors instead of its current four if the department had sufficient state funding.


If that was the case, O‘ahu would have 10 inspectors, Kaua‘i two, Maui three and the Big Island five.


Matsuda said the state is in the process of hiring additional pesticide inspectors by the end of the year, although the department will still have only a fraction of the positions it needs.


“We will be hiring one on Kaua‘i, two on O‘ahu, one on the Big Island, and then the next go-around we hope to get another one on Maui,” Matsuda said.


Scott Enright, Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture director, said the DOA gets about 0.4 percent of the state budget.


“If you think we need to be doing more, tell your politicians to give us more money, more resources,” he said.


Matsuda said it would cost the state approximately $1,178, 400 to fund 20 inspectors and four case developers. “If money was no object, this is what we need,” Matsuda said. “The reality is the state has a budget.”







“If you think we need to be doing more, tell your politicians to give us more money, more resources,” Enright said.

But Gary Hooser, Kaua‘i County council member, questioned whether the DOA can take a critical look at large biotechnology companies operating within the state. Hooser’s failed measure —Bill 2491, which would require biotech companies to disclose the amount of pesticides use as well as restrict biotech companies from spraying pesticides within 500 feet of schools, public roadways, streams, rivers, shorelines, hospitals or residential areas — prompted state officials to develop the Good Neighbor Program.


“[The DOA] don’t see their job as protecting public health; they see it as working with farmers to make sure that the pesticides get used right,”


“[The DOA] don’t see their job as protecting public health; they see it as working with farmers to make sure that the pesticides get used right,” Hooser said. “The DOA is sympathetic to these large companies and believes that industrial agriculture is the way that we must go. So they don’t have a built-in bias of protecting health and the environment.”


Matsuda said, ultimately, the DOA wants “to protect your food source.”


Rep. Chris Lee (D-51, Kailua, Waimanalo) said discussion needs to occur to procure additional DOA funding. Similar to Hooser’s measure, Lee introduced HB 1514, a failed measure which proposed to restrict pesticide spraying near schools, hospitals and water spreads as well as require biotech companies to disclose pesticide use.


“I think the [state] is understaffed and under resourced and they have a lot on their plate, and I think it’s gonna be up to the legislature and up to the administration to come forward in the future and start talk, ‘What tools are necessary to do some meaningful, in-depth research’,” Lee said.


Cindy Goldstein, DuPont Pioneer lobbyist, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did representatives for other large biotechnology companies such as Monsanto. Efforts to contact the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, an advocacy group that supports the companies, were also unsuccessful.

Good Neighbor Policy

statewide expansion


Amidst growing public concerns about pesticide runoff, Enright said, the state is working to expand statewide a program developed on Kaua‘i that would have biotech companies voluntarily share the amount of restricted use pesticides (RUP) on a monthly basis.


Christina Zimmerman, a DOA environmental health specialist, said biotech companies are not required by law to disclose what or how much pesticides they use.Instead, companies can disclose whatever data they want to through the Good Neighbor Program, which is voluntary and applies to agricultural companies Dow AgroSciences, Pioneer, Syngenta, BASF and Kaua’i Coffee Company. While not mandatory, the program aims to report each company’s monthly restricted pesticide usage to the state.


“They’re not required to submit any usage information, restricted or otherwise,” Zimmerman said.


“They’re not required to submit any usage information, restricted or otherwise,” Zimmerman said. “They do keep records of the restricted pesticide use and when an inspector goes to their facility, they have to have them available for inspection."


But Lee said the Good Neighbor Program needs “clear requirements and clear disclosure that will ensure [that] regulators have meaningful and effective oversight to ensure public safety and public health.”


“When it’s [the] government’s job to ensure public safety and public health, a lot of folks would be hard-pressed to explain how a voluntary program, which leaves out a huge amount of information at the discretion of companies being regulated, meets that expectation that there’s a guarantee for public health and public safety,” Lee said.


The Good Neighbor Program — which started on Kaua‘i on Dec. 1, 2013 — reports each month the “type of restricted use pesticides (RUP) that are applied on [biotech companies’] fields” and implements a 100-foot buffer zone around schools, medical facilities and residential properties, according to the program’s website.


That information is publicly accessible in a database managed by the state.


But the program’s voluntary nature allows companies to leave out what they don’t want to report. One problem, Hooser said, is that the voluntary program does not require companies to disclose general use pesticides (GUP).


“[For] general use pesticides, there is no record or disclosure, public record or public disclosure at all,” Hooser said. “Voluntary to me is not sufficient, period, and the fact that they don’t disclose general use ... gives people a false sense of knowledge and security.”


Creating a mandatory reporting program would be challenging, though. For instance, regulators would have to decide which types of pesticides they would monitor as well as who would have to comply. Matsuda said there about 9,000 pesticides licensed for use in the state, many of which are used outside of corporate farms.


“People can get so passionate about pesticide use,” Matsuda said. “We all use pesticides: homeowners, farmers, use in the school, biotech companies use it – just about everyone. Organic farmers use it, conventional growers, so you can not get away and go banning pesticides.”


Travis Overley, Sunrise Dry Farms owner, said he is concerned about research pesticides, which are experimental and have not earned approval from the Environmental Protection Agency. However, Overley is unsure if these types of pesticides are used by biotech companies.

Representative Chris Lee

Overley said using pesticides — in some cases — are necessary.


“I realize as a farmer, that I lost three acres of tomatoes in about 24 hours from whitefly because I wanted to be so natural that I didn’t use anything, not even organic spray,” Overley said. “I lost thousands [of produce] and thousands of dollars and labor.”


However, Zimmerman said the term "research pesticide" is a myth.


“We don’t classify anything as research pesticide." Zimmerman said. “There are situations where an experimental use permit [is required] to use a pesticide in an experimental way, but both of those are issued to registered products that might be used in a slightly different way.”


According to data from the Kaua‘i Good Neighbor Program database, big agriculture companies on Kaua‘i used a total of 4,137.52 gallons and 2,363.12 pounds of RUPs from December 2013 to August 2015.


Based on State Department of Agricultural historical sales data for Kaua‘i in 2012, all commercial agricultural entities — Kaua‘i Coffee Company, Arigenetics, BASF, Pioneer, Syngenta Seeds and Syngenta Hawai‘i — purchased 5,477.2 pounds and 5,884.5 gallons of RUP.


Overley said there needs to be definitive evidence that research pesticides are harming people.


“I think that a lot of folks are worried that some of these research and development chemicals that are being used by these big scary mysterious companies – they’re all bad,” Overley said. “We don’t know that. Some of them may just be terrible, and some of them may just be really, really helpful. We don’t know.”


Overley added that “the best and quickest regulation for pesticides” will not come from the state, but will come from the choices of private companies and trusts, such as Kamehameha Schools, Castle and Cook and Dole, that own the properties being used by pesticide-using farms.


Understanding the long-term impacts of pesticides on the environment and people is critical, especially given the significance of land in Hawaiian culture.


“There’s a reverence for the land – when people who are Hawaiian say ‘aina’ ... there’s a different notion of it not just dirt, you know, there’s something more to it,” Overley said.


A previous version of this article stated that the State required a minimum number of health inspectors andstated that "Kaua‘i used a total of 4,113 gallons of RUPs from December 2013 to August 2015.


Read original article here:!chapter2/g1cnp.

Story by: Alden Alayvilla




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