Truth a Casualty in Kauai GMO-Pesticide Debate

If truth is the first casualty of war, it was body-bagged a long time ago in the pitched battle being waged over pesticides and GMOs on Kauai.
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If truth is the first casualty of war, it was body-bagged a long time ago in the pitched battle being waged over pesticides and GMOs on Kauai.

"It's like everyone on either side has jumped off the deep end and there's no one in the middle preaching reason," lamented a journalist friend.

Indeed. In my quarter-century of covering all the big issues on this little island -- and there are more than one might imagine for a place dubbed "paradise" -- I've never seen such fervor, heard such hyperbole.

The catalyst for the cacophony is Bill 2491, a proposed county law that would require Kauai Coffee and four biotech companies -- BASF, Dow Agronomics, Syngenta and DuPont-Pioneer -- to publicly disclose their applications of restricted use pesticides. It also requires them to create buffers between their fields and public areas, such as schools, hospitals, roads, streams and parks.

And since many of the crops are genetically modified, and possibly experimental, the bill also calls for a moratorium on new GMO crops and open-air field trials pending a county-funded EIS.

It's a broad bill, a scatter shot bill. Some folks have called it a "scorched-earth" bill, others, an incredibly brave bill. Most political realists agree it will be a hard-to-pass bill. Just two Kauai Councilmen -- Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum -- have endorsed it.

It's a bitterly contested bill, an international dispute being fought out on our little island. And as the Sept. 9 Council hearing date nears, both sides are ramping up the rhetoric in a drive to gain new converts, and bully the Council.

But is anyone even listening anymore?

Hasn't it all been said, and then some, in the endless Facebook posts, the radio ads and talk shows, the daily letters to the editor, the guest commentaries, hours of testimony to the County Council, the petitions, the t-shirts, the yard signs, the forums, the buzz on the coconut wireless?

Are there any claims still be made, ones that haven't yet been raised?

We've already heard so much from the anti-2491 camp: It will will never hold up in court, it's unconstitutional, an illegal taking, a North Shore hippie plot to finally get control of the land. It will drive the companies out of business, throw hundreds of people out of work, destroy the westside economy, cost the county a fortune to defend and implement. We like our jobs, we want our jobs, we don't need niele (nosy) trust funders telling us what for do. Biotech is the white knight, feeding the hungry billions, based in science, fanatical about safety. It presents no dangers, causes no harm, and is already heavily regulated. Oh, and better watch out, they'll be coming for your Raid and your Roundup next.

The pro-2491 contingent, of course, has weighed in, too: These multinational killing companies have turned pristine, unspoiled Kauai into ground zero for their devious experiments. They are drenching the soil in experimental pesticides, turning each particle of dust into a ticking time-bomb. The field workers are brain-washed and suffering from plantation mentality, we can find them new jobs, and anyway, health trumps the economy. Everything is contaminated, everyone is sick, the kids wake up with bloody noses, the westside is one big cancer cluster. There's atrazine in the water, they're poisoning the land, the sea urchins, millions of honeybees, us in our beds while we sleep. We don't trust the regulators, we don't trust the companies, we don't trust the science, we don't trust the politicians. We're doing it for the children, for the aina, malama aina, aloha aina.

The messages, many of dubious veracity, have been delivered with such vehemence and passion, such finger-pointing and sanctimony, that the red shirts and the blue shirts -- yes, that is how they have divided themselves -- are now preaching mainly to their respective choirs. Each side is convinced it is following the one true way, and that the other side is engaged in despicable dogma, distortion and deception.

It is on this frenzied battlefield, the agricultural equivalent of abortion and gun control, that seven elected officials are trying to address the core issue: What sort of oversight and accountability is needed for companies that apply restricted-use pesticides -- some 3.5 tons and 5,100 gallons annually -- and grow experimental crops outdoors?

Though the community is polarized, Bill 2491 can't be blamed for the ugly divisiveness that is tearing us apart. It has merely served to spotlight all the ways we have always been divided: haole, local, windward, leeward, north shore, westside, rich, poor, white collar, blue collar, malihihi, kamaaina. It's not pretty, and it's not paradisaical. But then, the truth rarely is.

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