LIHUE — Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser introduced an ordinance Thursday that would give authority to the county to govern the commercial use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms.
Hooser believes it is an opportunity to set a precedent, and could serve as a model for other communities.
“This ordinance is about impacts on Kauai — Kauai health, Kauai environment,” he said. “It’s not about GMOs and whether they’re good for the world or not.”
The 10-page ordinance, co-sponsored by Councilman Tim Bynum, would require commercial agricultural entities to disclose the use of restricted use pesticides and the presence of genetically modified crops.
“The people of the County of Kauai have the right to know the potential impacts that these substances and the related agricultural practices are likely to have on their human health, and the health of their environment,” states the bill.
It also calls for a 500-foot pesticide-free buffer zone around public areas and bodies of water, a temporary moratorium on the experimental use and commercial production of GMOs until the county has conducted an Environmental Impact Statement on the industry’s health and environmental effects, and prohibits open-air testing of experimental pesticides and GM crops.
Hooser said he put together the ordinance in response to growing community concern with the industry, its practices and the direct and long-term impacts.
“This is all about understanding what’s happening,” Hooser said, “and either putting to rest the fears, if they’re not valid, or putting in place protections if these fears are valid.”
Records obtained by Hooser from the State Department of Agriculture show 22 restricted use pesticides — more than 3.5 tons of them — are used annually on Kauai by five commercial agricultural companies.
Those companies — Syngenta, Pioneer, BASF, Agrigenetics (DOW) and Kauai Coffee Co. — account for 99 percent of the restricted use pesticides used on the island, according to Hooser.
“Nobody says that 22 pesticides, restricted use pesticides, sprayed for 20 years, tons of it year after year, the combination … is safe,” Hooser said. “Nobody is saying that. Nobody has studied it. And that’s what’s happening to our island.”
Scott McFarland, Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation vice president, called the bill a “broad and bold approach to really regulating production of agriculture and food crops on Kauai.”
While it targets the largest corporations, McFarland believes it will impact farmers of all sizes.
“It would be a shame if local farmers could not take advantage of a future innovative tool (pesticide) that could benefit future food production on the island (because of the bill),” he said.
Hooser believes such an ordinance is “reasonable” and “long overdue.”
The Hawaii Revised Statutes Section 46-1.5(13) says that each county “shall have the power to enact ordinances deemed necessary to protect health, life and property,” states the ordinance.
“We have the legal authority to do this,” Hooser said. “We either clearly have it or it’s never been tested. So there’s no law preventing us, and there’s no court cases preventing us from doing this.”
In a release from the Pesticide Action Network, Kauai resident Lorilani Keohokalole-Torio said, “We have a right to know what’s being grown on the island and what harmful chemicals are being used in the process. And when pesticides are sprayed, we need protections in place for children.”
The bill is on the agenda for Wednesday’s county council meeting, beginning at 9 a.m. at the Historic County Building in Lihue.
If passed, Draft Bill 2491 would make it mandatory for all commercial agricultural entities that purchase or use more than five pounds (or 15 gallons) of RUP annually to disclose the use of all pesticides — restricted use, general use and experimental.
“If you use above the threshold, you have to disclose,” Hooser said. “You have to tell the people in the community in the County of Kauai what you’re using, how much you’re using and where you’re using it at.”
Companies would also be required to post signage in the area a minimum of 72 hours before, during and 72 hours after pesticide application.
Hooser stressed that the ordinance will not apply to common, everyday farmers because, for the most part, they do not use these chemicals.
“In the past three years, only two farmers, other than Kauai Coffee and the seed companies, have purchased restricted use pesticides,” he said. “And they’ve done it in very small amounts.”
In addition, the bill would make it mandatory for all entities that “intentionally and knowingly” grow GMOs to disclose its presence.
“You have to disclose what you’re growing, where you’re growing it and when that genetically modified organism was introduced,” Hooser said.
Annual public reports of both pesticide use and the presence of GM crops would be posted on the county website.
Hooser said he started out focusing on disclosure, but soon realized it was “not enough.”
The bill would also restrict major agricultural companies — those using large amounts of RUP — from applying any pesticide within 500 feet of a school, hospital, residential area, public roadway, stream, river or shoreline.
Originally, Hooser wanted the buffer zone to be one mile.
“I wanted it to be more,” Hooser said, “but with land in Hawaii, it would just be too hard. … Something is better than nothing, and its unrealistic in my opinion for us to go greater.”
If passed, the buffer zone would go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.
“Then there is a ban on open air testing of experimental pesticides and experimental GMOs,” Hooser said. “Experimental means it’s not approved for release in the environment. It shouldn’t be.”
Hooser said it is important that people understand the bill would not ban GMOs. Rather, it would require commercial agricultural companies to conduct experimental testing within a laboratory, contained greenhouse, fermenter or other contained structure.
Experimental GMOs are those that have not received final approval by federal government for human consumption, release into the environment, or both, according to the bill. Experimental pesticides are those that contain any active ingredient or combination of active ingredients that have not been included in any pesticide previously registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.
During his research, Hooser said he found that Syngenta and Pioneer both have permits for experimental use of pesticides.
“I know for a fact, I have it in writing, that the permits exist,” he said. “I don’t know what they’re doing with it.”
Moratorium on expansion
No new GMOs. No expanded operations.
“Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow, whatever they’re doing right now they can keep doing,” Hooser said. “But they can’t lease new land, buy new land or expand their operations.”
The temporary moratorium would remain in effect until an EIS is completed on the impacts of the industry here.
The EIS would include “testing of soil, dust, water, air and human resident volunteers” for the presence of pesticides or related chemicals in order to further identify any potential health and environmental concerns, as well as to establish a baseline for future testing, according to the bill.
The moratorium would also continue until the county has developed and put into place a permitting process for those intentionally growing GMOs.
“When this ordinance passes, they will have to get a permit,” Hooser said. “And that permit will take into consideration impacts outlined in the EIS.”
The County Department of Public Works would be responsible for implementing the ordinance and permitting process.
McFarland questioned whether Public Works could handle the increased amount of work.
“It does set up a pretty extensive regulatory framework,” he said. “I’m not sure the resources are available.”
Hooser said the bill would not get rid of GMO companies. Rather, it would require them to “live under greater level of regulatory authority.”
Any person, firm or corporation that violates the bill’s provisions would be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and one year in jail for each offense.
In addition, anyone “violating, causing or permitting the violation of any of the provisions in this article, shall be assessed a civil fine of $10,000-$25,000 per day, per violation.”
In the bill, Hooser writes that rapid, long-term and unregulated growth of commercial agricultural entities engaged in the use and development of GMOs on Kauai “has created a unique situation unlike those facing any other county.”
“It’s comprehensive,” Hooser said of the bill. “It boils down to the right to know. The right to know for Kauai.”
• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.