The root of the pesticide debate

By Rep. Lynn DeCoite

The use of pesticides in Hawaii is getting very close scrutiny in the state Legislature this session. As the vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee, I am all for disclosure and notification requirements for any and all types of pesticides being used around our schools and our residential areas. However, these requirements and creating vegetative buffer zones do not address the root of the problem.

One bill, House Bill 1571, only attacks agriculture and will destroy farming. The real focus should be education and prevention.

According to the Findings and Recommendations of The Joint Fact Finding Study Group on pesticide use by large agribusinesses on Kauai, there were 16 school evacuation incidents due to possible pesticide drift statewide between March 2006 and December 2014. The Department of Agriculture said homeowners, not farmers, using pesticides caused the majority of pesticide exposures. In a separate incident, one farm that did cause exposure was fined as punishment, which is the right thing to do. A single farmer, a single violation and a single fine. We don’t need to punish and overregulate every farmer because of this one incident.

I am also a farmer, a third-generation Hawaiian homestead farmer who grows the Molokai purple sweet potato and I am trying to do my part by feeding people. We are passionate about what we do and, really, it’s not in my best interest or any other farmer’s best interest to kill our customers with pesticides. And the notion that that’s what we do is insulting.

Farmers such as myself that are certified and go through training on how to apply restricted-use pesticides are under heavy oversight. How can we as farmers stop having to defend ourselves to people that know nothing about pesticides? I find it insulting that outside influences claim to know everything, when in actuality they know very little about farming.

Punish those that do wrong. I fully agree with that. Fine them — fine everyone who breaks the rules. But if the evacuations of schools were caused by pesticide use by homeowners, then why are we turning the blame on others?

In order to keep our communities safe, we need to know who and what to keep them safe from. And it is the responsibility of everyone in a community to know how to use pesticides safely. This is why I feel these regulations should apply to everyone.

While this bill is about protecting kids and communities from pesticides, we need to understand that pesticides are a tool and a last resort to control pests — including invasive species.

This bill, and others like it, will not encourage farming; it will destroy farming. The exposure incidents occurred right in front of our eyes and we are looking to blame the other guy. We have to teach, educate and protect.

At a time when the governor has asked us to double food production in the state, why are we looking at legislation that will create roadblocks? Fine and punish those that are violating the rules, but do not punish those that apply pesticides properly.

As lawmakers, it is our job to hear all sides and to ask tough questions and decipher what is true and what is not, and based on the answers given and research to back it up, we make our decisions.

 For this bill, and many like it, the real focus should be education and prevention. Let’s not jump the gun. This could be the difference between our food being sustainable or not.

Rep. Lynn Pualani DeCoite is serving her second term representing District 13 (Molokai, Lanai, East Maui) in the Hawaii Legislature and is vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee. A Molokai resident, she is a third-generation Hawaiian homestead farmer.

This commentary first appeared in the Maui News. http://www.mauinews.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/2017/02/the-root-of-the-pesticide-debate/