LIHU‘E — Some Westside residents said that the Thursday event with Dr. Vandana Shiva gave them an opportunity to express their fears — of exposure to toxins, both from GMOs and others — to international experts.
Shiva, the keynote speaker of the event, spoke briefly with a number of Westside residents prior to her address on community-driven sustainable farming.
The event sharpened their focus to the actions they can take to protect their community, they said.
“We must be allowed to live this life amidst development and urban sprawl,” said Rhoda Libre, president and executive director of the Kaua‘i Westside Watershed Council. “This is not one voice, or one person’s personal vendetta with delusions of grandeur. I am a cultural gatherer and we are an ocean people, and that is where our food is, where our health is, and why our people are living long and productive lives.”
Libre said her goal is to reestablish cultural and regional ahupua’a — a concept of caring for property — with accountable management of natural resources. Libre said she worries that the GMOs compromise the historical lineage and significance of cultural sites, affecting the salt ponds and native plants, the shoreline and the coral reef.
Another concern is of atrazine and herbicides now banned in Europe for groundwater contamination is one issue. There is no compromise on the demand to stop using such hazardous materials, she said.
“The beautiful, historical shoreline and coral reef is turning into a dead spot,” she added. “I think that everyone is seeing this now that and we can change the rules.”
Libre said that, while writing a letter to one’s representative helps, there needs to be effective management and enforcement. That’s why Libre attends Ocean Resources Management Plan meetings of the Marine and Coastal Zone Management to help formulate rules for the shoreline and the ocean.
“From there, we may be able to thwart the GMO’s from the coastline,” she said.
Joe Kamai said he worked for Pioneer Hi-Bred in the 1980s. The company began spraying at night after children reported getting sick at nearby schools.
Today, Kamai works on the preservation of the Salt Pond village, burial grounds and gardens. Part of that effort is to restore native plants to the area.
“We have been nursing that place for 20 years, trying to get the ‘a‘ali‘i and other native plants grow back,” Kamai said.
“We have been successful doing this on our own and what they are trying to do is give everybody access to our water and it’s time to let people know that you can’t keep on taking without giving back, because when you start running out of resources then what are you going to do?”
County Councilmember Gary Hooser was present at the event and said he is in an “information-gathering phase” on possible causes and solutions.
As a state senator, Hooser introduced legislation to regulate agricultural spraying near schools, following three incidents of possible exposure in three years. It was defeated for lack of definitive cause, but he said a voluntary ban on spraying near the Waimea schools was reached.
“That was the first indication for me that there may be some serious issues here with pesticides and herbicides from industrial agricultural operations as opposed to small family farms,” Hooser said.
The Number One issue on island is the state of the watershed, coral reefs and the water quality that is now below EPA guidelines, he said. As a policymaker, he said it is his obligation to look at these indicators that say something is wrong and see what can be done to alleviate or prevent a negative health and environmental impact.
To start with, Hooser said the level of awareness and concern has now reached a point that the state should adequately fund and staff the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture. These are the agencies primarily responsible for regulation of pesticides and herbicides, inspection and enforcement.
The GMOs are not the only concern, Hooser added. He said the golf courses, the state and county all use chemicals in the environment. Scientists say that a combination of natural runoff, agricultural spraying, cesspools and weed or pest control are all culprits.
“I am doing my homework right now to try to figure out what exactly is happening,” he said. “What is clear to me is that it is a combination of things happening that is a problem, but what the source of that problem is, and what the solution is I don’t know.”
At some point, the data will make it clear if more regulation is needed, he said. The concern of adjacent communities regarding health or leasing farmland is a powerful statement, he said.
Waimea resident Gordon LaBedz, M.D. of the Surfrider Foundation-Kaua‘i chapter, said the EPA statistics show that agriculture is responsible for about 50 percent of land and water pollution in the U.S. Citizens are primarily responsible for the other half through urban runoff.
He said the concern with the GMO’s are that they are all owned by chemical companies that manufacture seeds to tolerate more chemicals.
“None of these chemicals are safe, ‘-cide means poison: Pesticide, herbicide, homicide, suicide,’ and the GMO companies are by far the worst polluters on the island,” LeBedz said. “They poison the ground and it runs into the water when it rains.”
The golf courses actually use more pesticides than agriculture, but they occupy a smaller area of land, he said. The third largest violator are home gardens that use toxic plant foods that get into the water table.
Organic farmers use natural fertilizers or compost, and others use store-bought chemical fertilizers that are certified safe by the federal government, he said.
“Everything is made out of chemicals and that is sort of a semantic issue, but a “cide” is a poison,” he said. “It all runs down to the ocean and anybody who doesn’t use organic feed is guilty of killing our reefs, and that is the way it is.”
He urges residents to get involved with Surfrider Foundation to help spread the message.
Other residents have take their concerns to court.
Some 17 Waimea residents filed suit last May in Fifth Circuit Court against Pioneer Hi-Bred for alleged inaction to control erosion and pesticide-contaminated dust from its GMO test fields. The neighboring farmer and residents are seeking an injunction against the use of suspected toxic chemicals and damages.
Another group — 194 of them — filed a federal court suit in December against the same defendants. Attorneys P. Kyle Smith and Gerard A. Jervis are attempting to move the case back to Kaua‘i’s Fifth Circuit.