The state's intent to address health and environmental concerns tied to the use of pesticides and genetically modified crops is being met with caution by supporters of a bill that would impose regulations on large agricultural biotech companies on Kauai.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced earlier this week that the state will create standards and guidelines for biotech companies to voluntarily disclose use of pesticides and genetically modified crops, and will implement buffer zones near schools and hospitals.
The governor's announcement came as the Kauai Council'sEconomic Development, Sustainability, Agriculture & Intergovernmental Relations Committee prepared to reconvene today after deferring a vote on Bill 2491 two weeks ago for further review.
The bill, co-introduced by Councilmen Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum, calls for mandatory disclosure and the creation of buffer zones near schools, hospitals, residential areas, public roadways, streams, rivers and shorelines. It also calls for the county to conduct an environmental impact study.
The bill would directly affect Syngeta Hawaii, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences, BASF and Kauai Coffee, the largest coffee grower in the state.
Also ahead of today's meeting, the state Department of Health, Hawaii Tumor Registry and University of Hawaii Cancer Center jointly released results of a study on the incidence of cancer that found no higher occurrence on Kauai compared with the rest of the state.
In a news release issued Thursday, state officials said the study was conducted at the request of Kauai legislators and community members concerned about the health impacts of pesticides used by agricultural chemical companies. The full report is posted on the Health Department's website, www.health.hawaii.gov.
Some supporters of the bill say they welcome state involvement in the debate but contend that the administration's plan lacks teeth.
"What the state is presenting is very vague," said Fern Rosenstiel, a Kauai community advocate and environmental scientist. While relieved that the Abercrombie administration is looking at a statewide approach, Rosenstiel questioned the timing of the announcement, noting that it could further complicate debate over the bill.
Andrea Brower, an advocate and researcher on sustainability and food security, said she has no confidence the companies would voluntarily comply with state guidelines. She also accused the state of being negligent in regulating pesticide use by biotech companies that she maintains have not been forthright about the types of pesticides they use.
Alicia Maluafiti, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, representing biotech companies, said they would be open to voluntary compliance. The governor's announcement gives the companies hope for open dialogue with the community, which has not necessarily been the case with Hooser and activists, she said.
Though Hooser has said the intent of the proposed bill is not to put companies out of business, Maluafiti disagrees. "The bill perpetuates more fear-mongering and more misunderstanding of pesticide use," she said.
Maluafiti questioned how a list of pesticides would help the community. "Just putting out the names of the pesticides, what purpose does that serve? Does that give the community peace of mind? It doesn't make sense to me," she said.
Adminstration officials met with Kauai Sen. Ronald Kouchi and Reps. James Tokioka and Derek Kawakami on Sept. 20. Previously they met with Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation officials and biotech company representatives, according to Abercrombie's spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy.
Brower questioned why the state did not consult with advocates of the county proposal, including Hooser and Bynum.
McCoy said Kauai's legislative delegation had requested a meeting with the administration. "Had supporters of Bill 2491 requested such a meeting we certainly would have obliged. However, it is my understanding that supporters of Bill 2491 never asked to meet with the administration," she said in a written statement.
Credit: Rosemarie Bernardo