Food, or food fight?

By Randy Cabral

President, Hawaii Farm Bureau

The Hawaii Farm Bureau was reassured when the 9th Circuit Court ruled on Nov. 18 that it’s the kuleana of the state and federal governments to regulate GMO crops and pesticides in Hawaii.

While we support the concept of home rule for the counties, it’s crucial to have a consistent, uniform approach to some complex activities. This is particularly true when it comes to pesticide regulation, which requires a level of expertise and resources that the counties do not have. The prospect of each county imposing its own rules on farming, some of them in conflict with state and federal regulations, would have been unwieldy and bad news for farmers and consumers.

Farmers are already deeply challenged in trying to comply with the complex regulatory framework imposed on producing fuel, food and other crops by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the Hawaii Department of Health, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and other state and federal entities.

So when the appeals panel struck down the harsh and unnecessary GMO and pesticide measures passed on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island, we hoped that finally, our communities could begin to heal from the divisive effects of this polarizing debate. Finally, farmers could get back to the business of farming.

Sadly, the mainland special interest-backed anti-agriculture forces in our state quickly made it clear that they are gearing up for yet another fight. The taxpayer monies wasted on these unreasonable laws and litigation have not deterred them. They are now threatening to monopolize the next session of the Hawaii Legislature with more unwarranted demands for restrictions and bans, diverting more taxpayer money away from real issues.

Enough already. It’s time to focus on what the community needs.

The courts concluded that Hawaii has a robust and comprehensive structure for regulating agriculture and pesticides, and the state DOA works closely with the EPA to enforce these laws. The federal government strictly regulates the seed industry and its GMO crops.

The DOA, DOH and University of Hawaii have conducted water and air studies, which found no harmful levels of agricultural pesticides, and more monitoring is planned.

There is absolutely no justification for imposing additional regulations on farmers, simply to satisfy the clamor of activist groups that are not and will never be satisfied by scientific evidence.

Gov. Ige recently announced his goal to double food production by 2020. The farmers of Hawaii are committed to helping the state reach this worthy goal. But it will be a tremendous challenge, requiring all of our time, energy, resources and attention.

Farmers can’t possibly double production while spending the next six months at the state Legislature, fending off unjust attacks. Especially while we are facing new droughts, lack of certainty regarding water permits and the continuing onslaught of invasive species, among other challenges.

Despite the self-interested claims of activists to the contrary, the agriculture regulatory system is not broken in Hawaii. Farmers comply with the innumerable laws and regulations on the books and if they don’t, regulatory enforcement actions are undertaken against them. The system works.

What’s needed is more legislative and public support for farmers so we can get back to doing what we do best: keeping agriculture alive and thriving in Hawaii.

 Published in The Honolulu Star Advertiser on Nov.27, 2016