The Cost of Unintended Consequences
by Joni Kamiya, Hawaii Farmers Daughter, June 1, 2017
Who uses pesticides? Many people and it’s evident by the violations issued to homeowners, landscapers, county workers, businesses, agricultural users, the state, and pest control operators.
A few days ago, I decided to start my usual routine of digging up weeds from my garden. As hacked away at the weeds filling my garden boxes, I dug up a nice fat Cuban slug from my taro box hidden among the weeds. I remembered that I hadn’t put slug bait in that new box so decided to treat my garden with it to prevent rat lungworm disease. Eww is all I could think of.
As case number 15 of rat lungworm disease came to light last month, my blood boils a bit because of what has happened over the last several years. For years, I had to testify to legislators about farmers’ need for pesticides and that we indeed were proper users for good reason. I remember a meeting where Representative Chris Lee as well as several others sat there listening and the feedback we got was that the farmers need to do more to educate the public. No sooner did that meeting happen then I hear of Rep. Lee, Rep. Creagan, and Senator Josh Green joining in on the anti-pesticide bills being lobbied by the Center for Food Safety’s Ashely Lukens. The fear mongering continued for nearly 3 years masquerading as a “big ag” issue but really was something affecting all farmers statewide.
When the pesticide mongering was at its height, I remember walking past farmer’s market booths bragging about selling pesticide free products. Many signs also touted that it was grown organically too. I used to think that this “hipster” eating will bite us in the ass sooner or later and sure enough, it has brought to light a real microscopic monster that has been in Hawaii for nearly 50 years.
I’ve seen lots of blame being placed on the Department of Health for not doing enough about the issue and legislators not funding research about this. A few weeks ago, I received a mass email from Ashley Lukens of the Center for Food Safety bragging about not getting the organic tax credit law rescinded this past session. Her group, along with the other anti-ag groups like the Surfrider Foundation, the Sierra Club, and even Earthjustice, spent taxpayer dollars to fight a conflated problem and enabled a real problem to surface.
We also stopped multiple industry bills aimed at attacking small farmers (HB452), repealing the organic farming tax credit (HB961) and setting unreasonable standards that mandate all applicators of any pesticide be forced to report their usage (HB1302).
There was ZERO mention of a real food safety issue affecting every farm. No peep of rat lungworm disease. Organic farmers and even conventional farmers have lost a lot of sales because of this issue and buyers have turned to the mainland sources instead of heeding the buy local slogans. For a group that demanded the right to know, I’m not shocked that she prefers to keep the public in the dark about what organic farmers spray and the amounts being used. Shouldn’t it be fair across the board? I get so mad knowing that this is just another chip at agriculture overall that will make us 100% dependent upon imports.
None of these environmental groups even shared info to their followers on opportunities to follow good agricultural practices either. These groups told people that government couldn’t be trusted and by sharing info from extension agents only contradicts what they’ve been telling the public all these years. The focus on trusting experts is in dire need right now but none of these groups could ever turn that stone over and show how wrong they were to begin with.
The tax credit for organic farmers won’t even matter when no one wants to buy their produce in fear of rat lungworm disease. Why would any consumer want to risk catching this preventable illness to eat expensive, possibly unsafe produce, that wasn’t grown properly? The experts have already stated that controlling the vectors like rats and slugs is a huge way to prevent this from happening. There’s even emergency situations where organic farmers can use pesticides to manage this issue. The fact that pesticides have utility is really coming to the forefront as more stories are told of pain and debility from this parasite. I’d like to see the politicians repeal that law next year and put the funds back in to help ALL farmers produce safe food and get a tax break, not just one certain group. To not do that is discrimination if you ask me.
The failure of legislators to not focus on evidence based problems is showing up as many unintended consequences. The little fire ant invaded a Maui lot necessitating a court order to allow for treatment of the pests is telling of the fear mongering by those claiming to protect the environment. The Zika virus and even sharp rises in dengue fever also brought fear to the Big Island and Senator Green called for spraying of pesticides to protect people. The Civil Beat article also notes that spraying becomes difficult with many organic farms who will lose certification but fails to mention that there are emergency measures that can be taken to avoid that.
I’ve always thought that the leaders of our state, the legislators, had a duty to protect the public and use resources wisely. That clearly isn’t what’s happening here. The fear mongering of the organic industry against pesticides has brought rat lungworm disease to the forefront and helped to harbor the little fire ant. Many livelihoods including their own farmers have been impacted and will be if there isn’t some accountability placed upon these “leaders.” They’ve clearly made some bad decisions that have permanently changed the lives of many people. The public deserves better from those holding office and a reminder of the oath they took to protect us, as well as make the best decisions instead of looking at ways to pad their own coffers and egos.