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  • Fierce Opposition By Ag Industry Kills Pesticide Disclosure

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    A controversial measure that would have required monthly disclosure of pesticide use in Hawaii has died in the Legislature, essentially ensuring that the public won’t be able to find out details about what pesticides are being sprayed in the state and where.

    Senate Bill 1037 passed the Senate but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Clift Tsuji failed to give it a hearing last week before a key legislative deadline. The measure would have required agricultural companies to submit monthly reports of what pesticides they use and in what amounts.

    Advocates for disclosure often point to California as a model for Hawaii to follow, but disclosure here has run up against fierce resistance from members of the local agricultural industry who called the proposed requirements burdensome.

    Currently the state collects data on the sales of restricted use pesticides, but not how, when or where they’re applied. On Kauai, seed companies report their monthly pesticide use through the Good Neighbor Program, but that is voluntary and limited only to that county.

    Tsuji, a representative from the Big Island, said that he didn’t call a hearing for SB 1037 because he had already considered two similar proposals earlier this session and was concerned about the bill’s broad application to all farmers.

    Seed corn grows on Molokai on July 2, 2014.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    SB 1037, introduced by Sen. Josh Green also from the Big Island, originally targeted only large farms, reflecting concerns about the environmental impact of large companies like Monsanto that compose the state’s $243

  • Maui GMO Farming Moratorium Won’t Be Enforced Until At Least June

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    A federal judge has extended an injunction blocking Maui County’s voter-approved moratorium on genetically engineered farming from going into effect for at least another three months.

    U.S. District Court Chief Judge Susan Mollway based her decision on two bills introduced in the Legislature this session that sought to block counties from regulating agriculture. Both bills are effectively dead this year but she noted that the issue could still resurface.

    “In light of the possibility that legislation may affect this case, even if ultimately through legislative vehicles other than those two bills, this court continues the hearing on the pending motions in this case until the legislative session has concluded, and extends the injunction staying the enactment, implementation, and enforcement of the ordinance at the heart of this case,” Mollway wrote.

    Anti-GMO demonstrators hold signs protesting lawsuits by biotech companies during opening day at the Hawaii State Capitol in January.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    The injunction was originally supposed to be lifted on March 31. Mollway pushed back the next hearing on the motions of the case to June 15.

    The SHAKA Movement, a community organization that created the ballot initiative and intervened in the case to defend the ordinance, advocated against the extension of the injunction in a 13-page brief.

    “At stake is ongoing damage to the environment, potentially serious health problems associated with continuing practices, threats to Native Hawaiian culture and practices, and the integrity of our own election process,” the organization’s attorneys wrote in a brief.

    The brief reflected the fears of many

  • Lawmakers Struggle to Boost Hawaii’s Food Production

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Russell Ruderman wants to make lemonade.

    The Big Island state senator is fed up with hundreds of millions of dollars leaving the local economy to import beverages and food products that could be made in Hawaii with a few key investments and support from the public and private sectors.

    Softball-sized lemons can be grown year-round in the islands. And water? Hawaii gets more rainfall than virtually any other state. Look no farther than Maui for sugar.

    But when it comes to processing plants and bottling facilities, that’s when the notion of making and selling lemonade falls apart — at least on any scale beyond a roadside stand.

    People shop for local produce at the Pearlridge shopping center farmers market. Lawmakers are looking for ways to reduce Hawaii’s dependence on imported food.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    It’s not just about lemonade though. Ruderman, a grocer by trade, sees the same potential to increase local production of everything from tea and kombucha to beer and wine.

    He and others have been working to identify barriers to boosting Hawaii’s local food supply and find solutions to overcome them. Several legislative fixes were introduced this session as a result of those efforts.

    While some of the bills died without so much as a hearing, there are a few on the cusp of clearing a major hurdle this week at the Capitol. Thursday marks the deadline for bills to pass third reading and cross over to the other chamber.

    There’s

  • Kim Coco: Pesticides and Schools — Who Should State Protect?

    · By Kim Coco Iwamoto

    “In November of 2006, after the neighboring fields had been sprayed, sixty-one students were sent to the health room complaining of headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dizziness. Thirty-seven were sent home. The spraying continued, as did the illness spikes throughout the year.” — Testimony of Wendy Tannery, teacher at Waimea Canyon Middle School on Kauai, at 2008 state Senate hearing

    In May 2007, Kahuku High and Intermediate Schools were closed for three days “after 15 students were sickened by pesticide drifting from a nearby turf farm,” according to the Honolulu Advertiser.

    In January 2008, after smelling something described as “garden fertilizer” 60 students of Waimea Canyon Middle School were sent to the health room, and eventually 12 people were sent to the emergency room “to be treated for nausea, burning eyes, difficulty breathing, vomiting, headache, diarrhea and extreme dizziness. . . . The following week parents, students, faculty and staff received a letter from the principal informing us that the field adjacent to the campus would be sprayed with Lorsban, an insecticide” (Tannery Testimony).

    That’s some of the history of how pesticide spraying has endangered our schools. There’s a parallel history of failed efforts to do something about it, which includes some opposition to those efforts that might surprise you.

    A Kauai protestor opposes pesticide use by seed companies.

    Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

    Out of concern for the safety of students and employees, state Sen. Gary Hooser of Kauai introduced  SB 3170 during the 2008 legislative session. SB 3170 primarily intended to create a pesticide-free buffer zone

  • New Anti-GMO PAC Forms After Biotech Group Spends $820,000 on TV Ads

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    More than a month after the launch of an expensive TV campaign to persuade voters to reject a Maui County ballot initiative to temporarily ban genetically engineered crops, the Hawaii Center for Food Safety has formed a new group called the Coalition for Safer, Healthier Maui to campaign in favor of the measure.

    The group, which is made up of organizations ranging from Wailuku Coffee Company to Living Aloha Magazine, plans to engage in paid advertising, door-to-door canvassing and campaign mailers. The coalition’s website, voteyesforhealth.org, advertises endorsements from groups like the organic cereal company Nature’s Path beneath a large request for donations.

    But the communications effort has arrived late in the electoral season and is dwarfed by the work of Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, a group backed by seed companies like Dow AgroSciences.

    That organization has already spent more than $820,000 flooding the airwaves to convince voters that the ballot initiative would destroy the county’s economy and bring all agriculture to a standstill, while simultaneously increasing pesticide use.

    Monsanto fields on Molokai. The island of Lanai is seen in the background.

    In reality, the economic impact of a moratorium is uncertain — Monsanto has not said whether it would shut down or even downsize — and farmers who use conventional seeds would be unaffected.

    Rather than banning farming outright, the ballot initiative calls for a temporary moratorium on genetically engineered crops until the county conducts a public health and environmental health study. It is unclear how long that would take.

    The pro-GMO

  • Pro-GMO Hawaii Farm Group Aims to Spend $400,000

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    The Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation is planning a $400,000 public relations campaign to generate support for farmers and persuade voters to support genetic engineering in agriculture.

    The initiative ranges from running TV ads during football games and popular crime dramas to handing out temporary tattoos to schoolchildren and sponsoring face-painting at community gatherings.

    The effort is “intended to win the hearts and minds of voters and shore up support for ALL agricultural producers,” the organization’s president, Chris Manfredi, wrote in an Aug. 21 letter.

    He warned about potential economic impacts of recent Hawaii legislation that seeks to ban or regulate biotechnology in agriculture, such as a ballot initiative in Maui County that would impose a moratorium on genetically modified crops.

    “Agriculture in Hawaii and across the nation is under attack,” Manfredi wrote. “Across the nation, farmers and ranchers have been caught off guard by extremist activists that will stop at nothing to realize their utopian, misinformed and unsustainable vision of how you should farm.”

    Employees at Mycogen Seeds, an affiliate of Dow AgroSciences, lay irrigation lines in a field on July 2, 2014, on Molokai.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    According to an internal document obtained by Civil Beat detailing the public relations campaign, the group plans to run ads in major newspapers on five islands as well as on Hawaii News Now. The organization is also hoping to air 30-second commercials during TV shows like “CSI,” “Big Bang Theory” and “60 Minutes,” in addition to college football, PGA Golf, and CBS NFL games.

    Manfredi said

  • Federal Judge Invalidates Kauai’s Anti-GMO Law

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    A federal judge has struck down Kauai County’s ordinance requiring more disclosure from biotechnology companies about pesticide use and genetically engineered farming practices. The court ruling is a setback for the growing movement against biotechnology companies in Hawaii, where seed corn is the biggest export crop.

    U.S. District Court Judge Barry M. Kurren ruled Monday that the Kauai County ordinance known as Bill 2491 or Ordinance 960 unlawfully preempts state law governing pesticide use.

    “This decision in no way diminishes the health and environmental concerns of the people of Kauai,” Kurren wrote. “The Court’s ruling simply recognizes that the State of Hawaii has established a comprehensive framework for addressing the application of restricted use pesticides and the planting of GMO crops, which presently precludes local regulation by the County.”

    Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho speaks at news conference Monday along with Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi, center, and Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa in front of Honolulu Hale after a federal judge struck down a Kauai ordinance that requires biotechnology companies to disclose their cultivation of genetically modified crops and use of restricted pesticides.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    The bill, which required that companies disclose their use of restricted pesticides above certain levels and imposed buffer zones for pesticide spraying around areas such as roadways and schools, was passed 6-1 after an emotional 19-hour hearing last fall. Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho vetoed it, but the Kauai Council overrode him.

    Carvalho held a press conference Monday at Honolulu Hale along with the three other Hawaii mayors,

  • Donations Pour in to Influence GMO Debate, But Are They Being Disclosed?

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    The growing debate over genetically modified food and farming in Hawaii has attracted more than $77,000 so far this year to influence political elections, an analysis of state campaign spending data and additional financial information shows.

    While the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture has been a highly charged political issue in Hawaii for the past decade, the stakes are higher this year as Maui County voters contemplate a proposal in November to ban genetically modified crops.

    The nonprofit group behind the Maui County ballot initiative known as the Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for Keiki and the Aina (SHAKA) Movement has been placing ads in local papers and sharing information online to help raise awareness of the initiative. In less than three weeks, it has raised more than $18,000.

    Monsanto Molokai field worker pollinates corn on July 3, 2014.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Donations have been pouring in since the group’s fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.com  was launched July 28, including an anonymous $9,000 donation pledged Wednesday. The group is hoping to reach $100,000.

    But the organization hasn’t registered with the Campaign Spending Commission, despite a law that requires any groups that spend or receive at least $1,000 to influence a ballot initiative to register within 10 days of the initiative being certified. The Maui County Clerk certified the bill June 6.

    Mark Sheehan, one of the leaders of the SHAKA Movement, said during a phone interview Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of the commission’s requirement to register.

    “If that’s what we’re supposed to

  • In Hawaii, Who Has the Authority To Regulate GMOs and Pesticide Use?

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    The question of whether or not counties have the authority to regulate pesticide use and genetically engineered crops was at the center of a federal court hearing on Wednesday challenging Kauai County’s new ordinance imposing buffer zones and disclosure requirements on biotechnology firms.

    Global seed companies Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Agrigenetics and BASF are seeking a permanent injunction against Kauai Ordinance 960, which prohibits pesticide spraying near schools and hospitals; requires disclosure of restricted pesticide use about certain levels; and mandates disclosure of the cultivation of genetically engineered seeds.

  • Will the GMO Debate Fuel Campaign Donations as Local Elections Heat Up?

    · By Nick Grube

    Major Hawaii biotech firms have always been politically active but more anti-GMO candidates are running this year.

  • Senate Panel OKs Ag Board Nominee Over Opposition from Anti-GMO Activists

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    Sen. Russell Ruderman’s email opposing Richard Ha’s nomination backfired.

  • Bid to Override County GMO Restrictions Is Dead — for Now

    · By Anita Hofschneider

    Legislative efforts to supersede local regulations on GMO use didn’t make it past a key Senate committee.

  • A River Ran Through It: Group Blames State for Wasted Water in Waimea

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Earthjustice files petition against Hawaii’s Agribusiness Development Corporation.

  • GMO Fight Heats Up on Kauai, Big Island

    · By Sophie Cocke

    County bills could have far-reaching impacts on the agribusiness industry, as well as local farmers.

  • New Federal Food Safety Law Confuses Hawaii Farmers, State Officials

    · By Nathan Eagle

    State waiting on feds to issue rules on how to implement Food Safety and Modernization Act.