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Farmers are Being Shut Out by Anti-Agriculture Bill

January 23, 2014
Warren Watanabe - Executive Director, Maui County Farm Bureau , Maui Weekly

Recently, children at several schools on O'ahu and Kaua'i suffered from dizziness, nausea, irritated eyes and headaches after smelling a noxious odor on campus. A few were even sent to the hospital. The likely source of the problem: nearby homeowners incorrectly applying pesticides in their yards.

The fact is that most homeowners are not trained in the proper use of pesticides, and therefore, unfortunate mistakes sometimes happen. Farmers, on the other hand, must undergo rigorous professional training on pesticides and responsible application. Because of this knowledge, farmers take great care to minimize any and all negative implications.

Farmers, like all licensed users of pesticides, have a tremendous incentive to abide by the numerous state and federal laws governing responsible pesticide usage. Failure to do so results in huge penalties--large fines, sanctions against the farm, lawsuits and potential criminal charges, not to mention endangering the health of the farmer, his or her family and co-workers. Farmers shoulder a huge responsibility in using pesticides and honor this responsibility by being good stewards.

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Warren Watanabe

Farmers in each sector of agriculture--conventional, biotechnology and organic--all use some form of pesticides and are aware of the responsibilities and the consequences of misuse. State and federal regulations are strict. Licensees must be trained and certified to buy certain classes of pesticides. Sales are recorded and reported to government agencies. Users are subject to frequent inspections, and must demonstrate that their operations are in compliance and their records are clear and complete. Discrepancies result in penalties.

So when a bill was recently introduced at the Maui County Council to require an additional layer of burdensome regulations to farms, this time at the county level, the Farm Bureau began receiving a significant number of calls from farmers. Our farmers are stunned and concerned that this bill will force their farms to shut down. Many of them are calling it the "Anti-Agriculture" bill.

This bill is frightening for a number of reasons:

It ignores the voices of the farmers. While the bill is all about agriculture, it was introduced with no input nor serious effort at dialogue with our local farmers about potential impacts to them and to our entire agriculture industry. The USDA census says there are approximately 1,150 farms in Maui County. An estimated 2,500 families in our county depend on agriculture or agriculture-related businesses for their livelihoods. Farmers are flabbergasted to learn that an agricultural bill was introduced without consulting our farming community.

It didn't do its homework. If the bill seeks to find a solution, the problem needs to be clearly identified. What exactly is the problem? Does the bill identify how many illnesses or deaths in Maui County have been caused by improper pesticide use on our farms, does it articulate the scientific evidence or medical data that indicates an issue that needs to be addressed? Also, why does the bill only target farmers? There are numerous other users of pesticides. As the recent school incidents illustrate, these issues may not have anything to do with farms or other commercial operations. Without the facts, this bill could result in serious negative consequences to agriculture on Maui with what benefit to the community?

Farmers are scared it will force them out of business. A number of family farmers have indicated that his heavy-handed bill will make it impossible for them to continue running their farms. One grower stated that if he were to comply with the onerous elements of this proposed bill, he'd be able to farm on only a very narrow strip of land--not enough for his small business to survive.

The bill is one-sided and anti-farming. Why wasn't due diligence taken to consult with real farmers? If proper homework was done, the facts will show that pesticides and genetically engineered crops play a very positive role in agriculture. Farmers need these tools to protect their crops from destructive pests, weeds and diseases; and to prevent the spread of diseases and combat invasive species in environmentally significant areas. Unfortunately, by denying the voices of the farmers to be heard, the bill reflects a narrow viewpoint of individuals who do not understand what it takes to farm responsibly and fails to realize the negative consequences to Maui's agricultural industry.

The bill will unnecessarily use county taxpayer dollars to implement--because these areas are already regulated by state and federal agencies. It will also expose the county to legal challenges and divide the community. A similar bill on Kaua'i is expected to cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars for enforcement. County's attorneys have questioned the legality of the ordinance, and warned of potential lawsuits. Threats against Kaua'i's mayor are an example of how emotional and divisive the bill became. There is no solid rationale for Maui to go through the same turmoil--once again, what problem is the bill addressing?

Mayor Alan Arakawa recently negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with Monsanto, with similar discussions underway with HC&S, to voluntarily provide information about their pesticide use and farming operations over and above state and federal legal requirements. The agreement offers information to the county, doesn't cost any more in taxpayer dollars, and avoids potential legal problems. It was a civil and respectful way to achieve a win-win for all.

The Farm Bureau asks our Maui County Council members to please remember their responsibility to all of their constituents and the greater Maui County community. We respectfully ask that decisions are based on fact and evidence, and not exclude or ignore the voices of those who will suffer the consequences of an anti-agriculture bill.



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