Reports on Hearing for Bill 2491

SUBHEAD: The Environmental Services Committee/Public Safety Committee of the County Council hearing on Pesticide/GMO Regulations.

By Staff on 1 August 2013 for NBC KITV News -

Image above: Parking lot of the Kauai Veterans Center where those for and against the Bill 2491 could listen to a PA system with the sounds of the hearing inside Note GMO Free Kauai tent in right background. Photo by Juan Wilson.

Battle lines were drawn on Kauai Wednesday as a bill that seeks to reel in the GMO industry went to public hearing before the County Council.

Kauai County public information assistant Sarah Blane said the crowd inside and outside of the Kauai Veterans Center was estimated at 2,000 people, which would represent nearly 3 percent of the island's population.

"We're just thrilled with the turnout here today, and we look forward to a positive discussion (and) a great path forward," said Scott McFarland, state vice president for the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group that supports genetically modified crops.

Those in support of the GMO industry wore light-blue T-shirts, while those who opposed wore red. It was almost a carnival-type atmosphere at the public hearing with both sides positioning themselves along Kapule Highway, while trying to get drivers to honk their horns.

The controversial bill is being sponsored by councilmen Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum. It would force GMO corporations on Kauai to make public the application of restricted or experimental pesticides, if use exceeds five pounds or 15 gallons within a year. All GMO fields or storage facilities would be identified by geographic location and tax map key. The bill would also establish buffer zones of 500 feet near schools, hospitals, homes, public roadways as well as streams and shorelines.

In addition, open air testing of experimental pesticides would also be banned, as well as the cultivation of experimental GMOs outside of a laboratory or contained greenhouse. The bill also calls for an environmental impact statement that would lead to a permitting system and a temporary moratorium on any new GMO production or experimentation.

"We're here to hear from both sides of the community, from all sides," Hooser told KITV4. "At the end of the day when this process is done a couple weeks from now, I'm hopeful that we'll have a bill, a new ordinance that satisfies both sides.

However, those who work within the GMO industry say all of the restrictions imposed by Bill 2491 could drive away jobs, or perhaps even corporations. Pioneer, Syngenta, Monsanto, DOW and BASF all have a presence on the Garden Isle.

"It's been great to see the community turn out and really bring forward to the council a message about the importance of jobs in our community, (and) the importance of good, sustainable agriculture," said McFarland.

The bill faces another vote in Hooser's Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee before it can be forwarded to the full council for a final approval. Since Hooser and Bynum sponsored the bill, the measure needs just two more votes for passage on the seven-member council.

GMO Issue Heats Up

By Leo Azambuja on 1 August 2013 for the Garden Island -

Image above: Brothers Benji Rivera, in the red ‘Pass the Bill’ shirt, and Kamaaina Rivera, in the blue ‘We Are Kauai Ag’ shirt, greet each other in front of KVC. From original article. Photo by Dennis Fujimoto.

More than 1,000 people came to Kauai Veterans Center Wednesday to attend a public hearing on a proposal that has put Kauai on the spotlight across the state and has sharply divided island residents.

Bill 2491, introduced by Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser, would demand disclosure of pesticide use and the presence of genetically modified organisms, and would set up pesticide-free buffer zones for large agricultural operations.

Just down the road from Lihue Airport, it looked more like a soccer match laced with everlasting rivalry was going on rather than the council hearing public testimony from both sides of the issue.

On the grassy area fronting KVC, a lively crowd sporting either blue or red shirts waved signs and cheered to passing motorists, who in turn would blast their horns. On the parking lot, hundreds mingled, with their sides easily identified by the color of their shirt — blue for GMO and against the bill; red for anti-GMO and for the bill.

Inside KVC, emotions were also high, and Hooser had to constantly remind the public to not cheer, applaud or boo public speakers.

But the issue was much more serious and complex than winning a championship. It was about voicing concerns on a proposal that some say could either destabilize the economy on Kauai’s Westside or contribute to an already high incidence of cancer, respiratory and neurological diseases in that corner of the island.

Peter Wiederoder, site manager for Dow Agrosciences, said his company wouldn’t be farming on Kauai if the bill passes without any type of modification.

“Basically it means there is a large portion of our farms we cannot use any type of pesticides, not just restricted, but also general use,” he said. “If we can’t use any pesticides, we would not be able get yields that we would need in our farm production. Basically our companies would take that production to a different island.”

Dow has about 40 employees, and contracts another 80 to 120 people, according to Wiederoder.

Altogether, the GMO companies on Kauai — Dow, Pioneer, Syngenta and BASF — employ about 600 people. Kauai Coffee, another large agribusiness that buys a large amount of restricted use pesticides, would also be affected by the bill.

To Hollan Hamid, owner of Caffe Coco restaurant, the issue at stake is safety.

“I live about 700 feet from GMO fields in Poipu,” she said. “I have three kids, the tradewinds blow through the fields to my house and I want to make sure that I’m protected.”

Hamid said she tries to not use any GMO products in her restaurant’s menu. She added Caffe Coco uses local organic produce and locally caught fish.

Melissa Atkins, wearing a blue shirt, said her husband refuses to buy organic. In fact, she said, he thinks organic foods are a scam, and a lot of food scares have been connected to organic foods.

Atkins’ husband holds a master’s degree in agronomy and currently works for Syngenta as a field operations manager.

She said there is lot of misinformation and scare tactics regarding GMOs, but there has been many studies pointing to the their safety.

Atkins was holding her 3-month-old daughter, waiting to get inside KVC. Her husband, she said, works in the GMO fields, close to pesticides being sprayed, and is a healthy man.

“I even had a kid with him,” she said, laughing. Actually, Atkins and her husband have three children — their two young boys weren’t at the hearing. She said her daughter, their only child born on Kauai, is the healthiest of their kids.

Lori Hilles said if the GMO companies are forced out of Kauai, it would devastate the economy. The GMO companies employ about 600 people. If they lose their jobs, their families would be affected, causing a direct effect on about 2,000, and a ripple effect on all Westside businesses.

Hilles said she has been around GMOs almost her whole life and can attest for their safety.

Since she was 7 years old in Washington state, her father worked for a GMO company, and he still does. Hilles’ husband is a biologist who works as field operations manager for Pioneer. Together, they have two healthy children, a 5-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy who were at the hearing.

She said they are supportive of what the GMO companies are doing, solving issues to feed the world and creating plants that are resistant to pesticides.

“I totally believe they are safe, there has been 20 years of scientific research done,” Hilles said.

To Kalaheo resident Pat Gegen, sporting a red shirt, the bill would not drive GMO companies off the island.

“I’m not out to shut anybody down,” he said.

What he wanted is the information that is not available, the disclosure on pesticide use — and he had a reason for that.

Gegen said his wife is a nurse on Kauai’s Westside, and she has attended many patients with all kinds of symptons, but there isn’t enough information to understand their conditions. Additionally, the number of cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare cancer, is “definitely high” on the Westside, and one of the causes is pesticide use, he said.

As far as arguing that GMO regulations are restricted to state and federal agencies, Gegen said the tobacco industry is regulated by those agencies, but counties also have their laws regulating smoking. And regarding permitting, the county has a strict set of building permits to ensure safety, and should be no different with GMO crops.

“The permitting process is to make sure the procedures that are going on are safe,” he said.

Inside KVC, the blue shirts dominated by about two-to-one the crowd of more than 550 people. Outside the building, the red shirts had majority, with roughly two-to-one over the blues.

There were rumors that GMO companies paid hundreds of workers from off-island to fly in and attend the meeting, but Wiederoder said it wasn’t true, at least for Dow. He also said the company offered their employees to take the day off, and didn’t require them to attend the meeting. But many came in support.

“They’re obviously concerned, they’re actually fired up, you can tell by them being here,” Wiederoder said of the GMO employees.

Koloa resident and musician Kepa Kruse said the sad thing is that local residents have been divided by a third party coming from off-island. Inside KVC, he said, both sides of the issue were demonizing each other. Most of the people were wearing red or blue shirts, when they should be trying to find solutions together.

“They should all be wearing purple,” he said. After all, their goals were pretty similar.

“Both sides are fighting for the same thing, their families,” he said. “One side is fighting to feed their families; the other side is fighting to feed their families good food.”

If the Westside lands were used for solar farms, it would create more than 1,000 jobs and reduce the price of electricity on Kauai, which is the highest in the nation, he said.

“There has to be a unification of people for this to work,” Kruse said. “Otherwise, one side is going to lose.”

Kauai sustained itself for more than 1,000 years without outside contact, and without pesticides.

“It’s been proven already, so we can try to do it again,” Kruse said.

At the end of the day, the state government took a chunk of money from Kauai residents. There was a row of cars parked on the grass on the other side of Kapule Highway, across from KVC.

“They all got tickets,” a police officer said.


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