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The untold story of biotech’s supporters

on the North Shore


Story by: Ana Giliberti-Ippel

Photo: Ana Giliberti-Ippel

Photo: Ana Giliberti-Ippel

Photo: Ana Giliberti-Ippel

On the evening of September 29, 2015, in Waialua, Hawai‘i, over 70 people filled a local elementary school’s cafeteria for a meeting with government officials about pesticide use and possible drift of chemicals to residential communities and schools nearby.


Many people spoke about the issue, which is an important part of agriculture on the North shore. Yet, those most closely connected to agriculture remained silent that day.


One of them was Antya Miller, the chair of the North Shore’s Agricultural Committee.


Miller said that many farmers are afraid of voicing their opinions at the meetings due to vocal opponents of pesticide use and a movement against biotech companies DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto, which operate in Waialua and Haleiwa, respectively.


“The farmers are getting picked on,” Miller said. “Why are the farmers getting picked on when on one hand, residents are saying, we want agriculture and ‘keep the country, country’, but in the other hand, they are attacking the farmers. And their argument is, Well, they are not really farmers,” Miller said.

Boyd Ready and Antya Miller 

“Residents are saying, we want agriculture and ‘keep the country, country’, but on the other hand, they are attacking the farmers.” - Antya Miller, Chairperson for the North Shore’s Agricultural Committee.

That’s made many who support pesticide use, including local farmers, reluctant to speak on the record. The result often advantages one side of the debate: While it’s likely you have heard or seen people protesting pesticide use on the North Shore, the voices of some of the individuals most closely involved in agriculture are rarely heard.


Many of the advocates of pesticide use we reached out to didn’t respond, but Hōʻā reached Miller, Jeff Scott and Boyd Ready through social media and met the trio at the Coffee Gallery in Haleiwa one afternoon.


“Some farmers that I know said that residents called the Department of Agriculture and complain if they even see a sprayer.  The residents sometimes fear that they are being poisoned when they are hundreds of yards away,” said Jeff Scott, a research scientist for Western Pacific Seeds, a small seed company based on the North Shore.


Like Miller, Scott supports genetically modified organisms and pesticide use.


“Speaking as a professional horticulturist, plant breeder and geneticist, and having started my career as an organic gardener, I’m completely dumbfounded that organic gardening has not embraced biotechnology and genetic engineering,” Scott said. “Because it solves problems without using toxins.”


Miller has been with the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit organization, for 17 years. For many of those, she served as the Chamber’s Executive Director. DuPont, Pioneer and Monsanto have made donations to the Chamber of Commerce over the years.


She moved to Waialua as a child over fifty years ago. Back then, the town was home to the Waialua Sugar Company, which employed many residents.


“There was a Facebook posting where the individual was saying, ‘This isn’t the community that I grew up in,’" Miller said. “Basically lamenting the fact that we have these chemical companies in our community. I replied to that person saying, ‘You are absolutely right. This isn’t the same community.’” Miller said seed companies have been here since 1968.


“What has changed is there has been a persistent campaign against the seed companies,” Miller said. “Directly, I believe, from a movement that is funded by organic and I also heard, people who want to get [agricultural] lands for other uses. The other thing that has changed is that we have a lot of newcomers into our community, people who have had absolutely no connection with agriculture whatsoever.”


Miller thinks that most of the controversy was generated following an incident of pesticide exposure at Waimea Canyon Middle School on Kaua‘i in 2008. Students were evacuated from the school due to possible pesticide exposure, prompting the Department of Health to work with the University of Hawai‘i to conduct tests of the air around the school. In summary, the study read that pesticides and natural chemical levels were “well below health concern exposure limits or applicable screening levels.”


Scott said that farmers with children don’t want their children to be exposed to pesticides and that agriculture has to “find a way to adapt.”


As the agricultural committee chair, Miller’s role has been to integrate agricultural practices so that they remain a priority. That includes making sure that lands designated to agriculture are not developed for other uses, such as residential buildings.


“Until there is a political will to make agriculture a goal in Hawai‘i, it’s not gonna thrive,” Miller said. “And now we have the political will of folks who are advocating backyard farming and most of them are advocating organic. Now they are saying, well, you should only be doing this kind of agriculture and nothing else.


“Diversified agriculture is really hard as it is, right now we only doing agriculture on one third of sugar plantation’s lands,” she said. “There’s two thirds of lands where nothing is happening on it.”



Jeff Scott

“Diversified agriculture is really hard as it is, right now we only doing agriculture on one third of sugar plantation’s lands. So there’s two thirds of lands where nothing is happening on it.” - Antya Miller

Miller does not deny the hazardous nature of pesticides, but believes that they are essential to farming, and is confident that government is taking steps to protect residents.


“First of all, pesticides are meant to kill,” she said. “And they are hazardous, there’s no doubt about it. So the issue is do you use them as they are intended?


“They are a necessity to people doing commercial farming. I know there are large-scale organic farm farms on the mainland but usually on those cases they have the winter. We have no winter, and that’s a big factor.”


When Tom Matsuda, Manager of Pesticide Branch of the state’s Department of Agriculture, mentioned at the September meeting that O’ahu has one inspector checking on compliance of pesticide application, many of those present were alarmed. Matsuda said that there are over 1,400 people in the state are certified for restricted pesticide use.


“We try to get to everyone at least once in that five-year period,” Matsuda said.


Matsuda told the residents present at the meeting that most of the problems with pesticide application compliance happen when people do not follow the instructions.


“If they hold a RUP license, we hold them to a higher standard because they are supposed to know better,” Miller said.


Boyd Ready, Miller’s husband and owner of Akahi Services Inc., a landscaping company, said that he’s been inspected “many times.”


“They knew our address; they knew they could find that certified applicator, and they would have to answer their questions and they could write up their report and get it done in the afternoon,” Ready said.


Fenix Grange, environmental toxicologist for the Department of Health, cited a study conducted in partnership with the United States Geological Survey. The tests concluded that 24 sites around the state met EPA standards, including those evaluating water quality. According to the study, the highest concentrations of pesticides were actually encountered in the urban areas of Oahu.



Photo: Ana Giliberti-Ippel

Photo: Ana Giliberti-Ippel

Photo: Ana Giliberti-Ippel


Graph by Amber Nunn Khan

Photo: Ana Giliberti-Ippel

Photo: Ana Giliberti-Ippel


“The purpose of the study was to compare different land uses,” Grange said. “So it is very easy when you read in the media to think that the only way pesticides are making their way and causing harm are from big industrial agricultural.”


It’s facts like that that Scott and others say are often missed or ignored by some of the most vocal opponents of pesticides.


“I see people in these meetings that are completely distressed,” said Scott. “And I feel deep compassion for how they feel. But it’s hard to know how much of that is caused by misinformation, so that’s why we need to find some ways to communicate to people. What are the real facts, how do all these things fit together, what are the different hazards in our lives, how do they affect us?”









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Photo: Ana Giliberti-Ippel

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