Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Kauai Joint Fact Finding: Now going after all farms, ranchers, even organic operators.

The county/state Joint Fact Finding group has finished its work and turned in a report that managed to satisfy no one.

Project manager Peter Adler predicted this a couple of months ago, when he said, apparently only half joking, “This report is going to give people a whole bunch of new things to argue about.”

The final report, if possible, is even more maddening than the draft report of a couple of months ago.

The draft report, at its very simplest, said three things: 1) the JFF looked hard but could find no evidence anyone has been harmed by the agricultural chemicals used by the seed companies and Kauai Coffee; 2) the data aren't very good; and 3) the data need to be better.

The final report says even less. Despite having looked at dozens upon dozens of reports, peer-reviewed science and not, government studies and raw anecdote, the JFF now says it can’t even say even that it found nothing. Because nothing is, after all, the absence of something—but nothing doesn’t mean there couldn’t be something.

So, the JFF announced that it couldn’t find either something or nothing, period.

"Currently there is not enough information to conclude if pesticide use by the seed companies plays any role in the health of Kauai`s residents," the JFF said.

Thus, fundamentally, the JFF concluded that anybody who said people were harmed or not harmed by pesticides was lying. It said there wasn't information to say, either way, so anybody who opined was doing so without a basis for that opination.

If this is sounding a lot like Alice in Wonderland or a Billy Preston song, well, there you go.

Was there a useful message in the JFF report? Perhaps yes.

The JFF members betrayed themselves as true believers. This no surprise. Several of them have said so to me personally, and to dozens of other people at public meetings. They said that although they looked very hard and found nothing, they really believe there must be problems with pesticide use—and not just in the big seed and coffee farms.

In the report, they cite all kinds of situations and studies in other states and other countries. And they extrapolate to Kauai, even in the absence of local evidence of harm. And so they recommend an unprecedented level of new regulation and investigation. We in Hawai`i need to be at least or even more heavily regulated than any state in the union, they argue.

They seek to test the blood and urine of pesticide applicators, field workers, and the blood and urine of school children.

Having failed to find hard evidence on the seed industry, the JFF now wants to expand new regulatory oversight to “any farm that produces food products.” Yes, they’re going after organic farms, after taro farmers, after beekeepers, after livestock operators, after everybody. (That’s on top of all the regulatory oversight all those people already face.) Here's the actual language, from page 96: "more data and better reporting on pesticide use by all pesticide users, including smaller conventional farms, organic farms, or any farm that produces food products."

They want to add new fees on all pesticide use by everybody—which at a minimum will raise costs for everyone, and will likely make Hawai`i’s food more expensive or make farming less profitable or both.

They want the Department of Health to monitor surface waters for pesticide contamination, and also want the Department of Land and Natural Resources to conduct surface water monitoring at wetland habitats. You might reasonably wonder at having two different organizations, funded by the same taxpayers, doing the same kind of testing.

They want the Department of Health to conduct general air monitoring, but the Department of Education to also conduct school air monitoring. You might once again reasonably wonder at having two different organizations, funded by the same taxpayers, doing the same kind of testing.

They also want testing of feral animals, birds and marine life.

The state has already agreed to do some new testing, new regulation, new pesticide use disclosure statewide and so on, but the JFF report seeks even more.

It is too late now to fix the document, but we are reminded of Slick Willie Sutton’s response to why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is.” The reverse, also true, is that you don’t rob places where the money isn’t.

Does it make sense to set up a whole list of mandatory, major, permanent, costly, sometimes duplicative government regulatory programs where there is no evidence of a problem? Slick Willie would argue against that, I think.

Which is not to say that JFF did a bad job. Just that the members missed a key piece of the logical puzzle when they leaped right from “no evidence” to “enact robust regulation.”

Let’s assume a driver approaches a mechanic and says, “My car’s broken. I mean, I think it’s broken. Well, I actually don’t know for sure that it’s broken, but cars break down everywhere, so it might be broken, and I’m satisfied that it could be. Anyhow, please fix it.”

You can image the mechanic’s response, “Well, I can certainly do it, but this is going to be real expensive and it’s going to take a long time. And you’ll need to leave a large deposit.”

He'll find something to fix, but it may not be the thing that was wrong.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016


Unknown said...

Yep, it is a mess and it is hard to even know what the report is supposed to represent.

Agriculture’s application of restricted use pesticide on Kauai is minor compared to what is used in treating structures for termites and treating drinking water; where is the concern about exposures from the big elephants in the room? Almost all the agricultural restricted use pesticides mentioned in the report are less acutely toxic than aspirin, and the USDA’s largest study ever done on pesticide use in the USA found that risks from chronic exposure have plummeted many fold over the past decades, precisely the opposite of what the report says is indicated from their incomplete literature review.

This report is little more than a collage of innuendos about agricultural pesticide usage. It cannot find evidence of harm to people’s safety or to the environment. How does it make sense to then spend more resources to correct this lack of harm? The extensive recommendations beyond what HDOA and HDOH are already doing are simply not justified by the findings or by logic.

Joan Conrow said...

Well stated, Jan and Harold.

Unknown said...

Well, the unintended consequences will be something that these folks never saw coming. If you make it hard to farm, regardless of what type, it isn't going to lead to more farms. It will have the opposite effect and that lofty goal of being self sustaining will be a pipe dream. I guess that's what happens when you let those farthest from the farm try to dictate policy.

Richard said...

Less than five percent of our population are farmers. So, quite a few don't know what they don't know. While a loud minority of these non farmers are trying to make policy about things they don't know - using the precautionary principle, which is itself too risky, the actual farmers are too busy to engage because they are working at making ends meet. What's wrong with this picture?

Steve Savage said...

Why don't we talk about golf courses? I'm not saying what they do is dangerous, but their pesticide use is way higher than ag. Also what about home owner use bought at the local stores?