Tag Archives: Roundup

Interview 4: Is Roundup Safe?

Richard Ha writes:

Having farmed for 35 years, I have seen herbicides become safer and safer for both people and the environment.

This video is the fourth in my series of short, expert interviews with Dr. Shane Burgess, who is dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona.

In this segment, I ask Dr. Burgess to talk about whether or not Roundup is safe.

See previous video interviews with Dr. Burgess here:


Science Takes on Roundup

Richard Ha writes:

Academics Review (an association of “academic professors, researchers, teachers and credentialed authors from around the world who are committed to the unsurpassed value of the peer review in establishing sound science”) has taken on a television program, which recently aired in Australia, and that reported a study of ten nursing mothers’ milk revealed the presence of glyphosate.

Academics Review lists quite a few points to consider about the study, which it says: was not a scientific one, had a number of factors undermining its strength, reported results not consistent with U.S. date on glyphosate in human subjects, used some misleading wording and conclusions, and originated from a biased source.

From the post:

Glyphosate is a relatively non-toxic broad-spectrum herbicide sold under the brand name Roundup that has been used for more than 40 years around homes, in landscapes and parks, and in agriculture.  Glyphosate is far less toxic than alternative herbicides, has a broader spectrum of activity, and has fewer adverse effects on herbicide-tolerant transgenic plants than typical herbicides have on most crops. Since it is not persistent in the environment or groundwater and has low toxicity, glyphosate is generally considered to have less environmental impact than other herbicides. 

An extensive scientific literature indicates that glyphosate is specifically not genotoxic, is not a carcinogen or a teratogen, nor has any specific adverse health effect ever been demonstrated to have been caused by exposure to or low-level consumption of glyphosate. It has little effect on non-target organisms other than plants; a contributing factor to this is that glyphosate inhibits an enzyme found in plants. This enzyme is not found in humans, other mammals, birds, fish, or insects. 

Academics Review concluded:

The use of glyphosate on herbicide tolerant crops has proven problematic to anti-GMO activists since adoption of the technology promotes the switch to a chemical with a lower environmental impact quotient and lower toxicity.  Recently, claims of adverse effects caused by glyphosate have begun to appear.  Although none of the reports has proven credible, it appears that these reports are part of a deliberate campaign to create the false impression that glyphosate is highly toxic and harmful as a basis of calling for bans of glyphosate which in turn would obviate the use of most HT-crop plants. 

Glyphosate is not sprayed on fruits and vegetables grown in Hawai‘i. It would kill the crops. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that the current worry about its use is not backed up by science.


Bill 113: What’s Next

Richard Ha writes:

Someone suggested that my change of plans re: putting 264 acres into preservation land smells of sour grapes – that I made a knee-jerk decision because I was upset that the anti-GMO Bill 113 passed.

But that’s not the way I make decisions. I am always looking five, 10 and 20 years ahead and planning what we need to do now to get where we need to be. Suddenly the future of farming on this island looked different, and I needed to be sure we have some flexibility at the farm.

Since I last wrote about this, though, I spoke with the USDA and found an option I didn’t previously know about. We can do a conservation easement that is less than the entire parcel. This will allow us to have a few small parcels that future generations could use for safety valve purposes, and still put land into the conservation easement. We will probably do this.

On Tuesday, the Hawai‘i County Council will decide whether to form an ad hoc committee of council members to analyze GMO issues and give the council recommendations for action. Otherwise, the mayor will do the analysis in-house.

It is no secret that I would have preferred for Mayor Kenoi to veto the anti-GMO Bill 113. But the reality is that the mayor did not have the votes to support a veto, and in this set of circumstances, I support the mayor over the council. He signed the bill, rather than wimping out and letting it pass without his signature. He was concerned about the rift in this community, and he assured the farmers that they would not get hurt.

And most of all, I know the Mayor is fact- and data-driven, something that is sorely missing from our current county council.

What I know about the county council is that its members have proven that they cannot separate fact from fiction, and therefore they are unqualified and unable to prepare us for the future.

In the recent Bill 113 debacle, our county council called Jeffrey Smith as its premier expert. This is an individual who has self-published two books about GMO foods but has zero scientific credentials and has been thoroughly debunked as any sort of credible GMO expert. He specializes in yogic flying (a kind of cross-legged hopping done in hopes of reducing crime and increasing “purity and harmony” in the “collective consciousness”). They allowed Smith to testify about GMOs for more than half an hour.

Three University of Hawai‘i experts on GMOs, on the other hand, were given a total of three minutes, between them, to testify. This averages out to one minute each.

If we are taking science into account, the Seralini study – which linked genetically modified maize and the herbicide RoundUp as having an increased cancer risk, and which was always widely pointed to as proving GMO foods were unsafe – was recently retracted by the scientific journal that published it, and rejected by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for having serious defects and failing to meet scientific standards.

County Councilwoman Margaret Wille made a very inflammatory remark in a comment following a Honolulu Civil Beat article written by University of Hawai‘i professor Michael Shintaku. In her comment, she accused Professor Shintaku, as well as Dr. Susan Miyasaka and Dean Maria Gallo (also of the UH College of Tropical Agriculture), of being “unmistakeably caught in the predicament of becoming the mouthpiece for the GMO biotech industry that provides much of the funding for their employer.”

Michael Shintaku responded with a polite comment that detailed how she was incorrect. Many scientists voiced outrage at the inaccurate and flippant comment that impugned their integrity.

It seems, unfortunately, to be par for the course for some who are anti-science and anti-GMO. Have they made up their mind without regard to truth? Have they dug in their heels, refusing to ever even consider new evidence?

I haven’t. If suddenly there was real science that showed harm from GMOs, I would cross that off my list and move on to the next best solution that would help our island. To date, though, there has never been any such science, not anywhere.

Our county council clearly does not understand farming. Councilwoman Wille likes to show how many letters she has in favor of banning GMOs, but the smaller stack from people opposing the ban was from the farmers who produce more than 90 percent of the calories grown here on the Big Island.

Why is she listening to the gardeners and not the farmers? There is such a difference between gardening and farming. I compare it to cooking turkeys. Cooking one turkey is easy – you just turn the dial for the right time and temperature, and then poof! It’s perfect. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Cooking one turkey is similar to gardening.

Farming, on the other hand, is like cooking 20 turkeys an hour every hour. They cannot be burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. And they must be ready on time or your customers lose money. And every so often the power goes off or the house blows down and you have to start all over again. Farming is much more complicated than gardening.

Some anti-GMO people proclaim that we should all just eat organic. But have a look at Table 2 on page 19 of this Baseline Food Sustainability chart from the county.

Based on that table, we compared prices between a Kona supermarket and a Kona natural food store. The annual budget for a family of five at the Kona supermarket was approximately $20,000, while at the natural foods store it was slightly more than $42,000.

We did a similar comparison in Waimea, and the results were substantially the same. It is clear that most folks cannot afford organics.

Senator Ruderman, who owns a natural foods chain, claimed our price comparisons are wildly inaccurate, but they are not.

A few days ago, we learned that the Florida citrus industry, which has lost more than a million acres to citrus greening disease, may have found a GMO solution.

Although anti-GMO folks like to say they are on the side of farmers, if citrus greening disease makes it to the Big Island and we are not legally allowed to use the Florida GMO solution, it is only homeowners and small farmers who will be hurt.

Read this link for a sample of what some of the people who testified on the anti-GMO/County Council side of the argument were doing in the background. It is mean-spirited and it’s not who we in Hawai‘i are. There is no aloha in this.


Scientific Journal Retracts Article Stating RoundUp Is Toxic, Causes Cancer

Richard Ha writes:

There’s big news in the anti-GMO world.

Food and Chemical Toxicology, the peer-reviewed scientific journal that in 2012 published controversial research by Gilles-Eric Séralini concluding that RoundUp-resistant maize and RoundUp are toxic and cause cancer, has announced it is retracting that paper.

Séralini’s research was got a lot of press, and has been widely cited by people who oppose genetically modified products. The now-discredited study even led to banning certain GMOs in Russia and Kenya, and it was used in the Proposition 37 debate in California (a referendum over labeling of GM food).

But the study’s design and conclusions were controversial from the start.

From the Economist:

      Smelling a Rat

Dec 1st 2013, 22:08

GENETICALLY modified maize causes cancer: that was the gist of a study, among the most controversial in recent memory, published in September 2012 in the journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology. Well, actually, it doesn’t. The journal has just retracted the article. It would be too much to say that GM foods have therefore been proven safe. But no other study has so far found significant health risks in mammals as a result of eating GM foods…. Read the rest

More about this at Forbes:

Séralini Threatens Lawsuit In Wake Of Retraction Of Infamous GMO Cancer Rat Study

As the Genetic Literacy Project reports, the GMO wars are escalating after the discrediting of a central pillar of the anti-crop biotechnology movement and the stumbling by a prominent science journal.     

Gilles-Éric Séralini, author of the controversial rat study that claimed to show that genetically modified corn could lead to a high incidence of cancer, says he is contemplating suing the journal that published the study if it goes through with its stated plan to retract it.

In a stunning development, the editor of the Food and Chemical Toxicology, A. Wallace Hayes, sent the French scientist a letter dated November 19 saying that the paper will be withdrawn if Séralini does not agree to do it voluntarily. In either case, evidence of the discredited paper will be expunged from the journal’s database…. Read the rest

You can read more about the background on what’s being called the Séralini affair at Wikipedia.


‘So God Made A Farmer,’ And Now The Hawaii County Council Wants To Make Them Criminals

NOTE: I do not grow any GMO crops, and I do not have any financial or other affiliation to any large seed or other companies that advocate the use of GMOs. My interest in this topic is in finding the right direction for Big Island farming and in being able to feed our future generations.
The Hawai‘i County Council meets again tomorrow regarding the anti-GMO bill.

I sent a letter to the editor of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today asking that we take a sincere look at the big picture.

We need to know what we want for the Big Island, and then formulate a plan to get us there.

We need to leverage our resources so as to provide affordable food to the rubbah slippah folks while also working toward achieving food self-sufficiency for future generations.

We need to identify how we can achieve a competitive advantage over the rest of the world.

We need to realize that the Big Island is young, geologically, compared to the older islands. We do not, therefore, have alluvial plains, which form after many years of erosion. We do not have the conditions that would support industrial-scale agriculture – flat land, a dry climate, strong sun energy, deep soil and irrigation.

The seed companies are not arriving here tomorrow to set up shop. Their tractors make money on the straightaways, and they lose money on the turns. It’s counterintuitive, but in spite of its size, the Big Island is an environment best suited for small farmers, not large one. Let’s not let a fear of industrialization cause us to make decisions that kill off our small farmers.

Margaret Wille has now suggested we do an ad hoc study group as part of the Bill 113 discussion. This is an excellent place to begin. Let’s place Bill 113 on hold while we do a fair and impartial study of how we will get from here to there. Who is right is not as important as what is right.

Kumu Lehua Veincent always asks: “What about the rest?” and that is the key question. How do we come to a solution that takes care of the rubbah slippah folks as well as everybody else?

There are a thousand reasons why, No can. We must find the one reason why, CAN!!

Some of my thoughts about all this:

Q. How is farmers’ morale now that Bill 113 is out there?

A. Big Island farmers are demoralized. Paul Harvey narrated a commercial during the last Super Bowl that said, “And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer.

It’s less than a year later, and now Big Island farmers are at risk of being criminalized.

Q. What do farmers think of Bill 113?

A. They feel it is unfair. They feel that they would not be able to use biotech solutions for insect and disease problems in the future, as will their counterparts on the other islands. They feel they would not be able to compete.

Farmers want to be good stewards of the land, and they are very distressed that they might be forced to use more pesticides than the rest of the state’s farmers.

Q. What biotech solutions are being developed for bananas?

A. Resistance to Race 4 Fusarium wilt, the biggest threat right now to banana farming worldwide, and resistance to Banana Bunchy Top virus. Both are taking place at the University of Hawai‘i right now.

Q. What biotech solutions are being developed for tomatoes right now?

A. Resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus, which could devastate a tomato farm.

Q. As a relatively large farmer, do you think the big seed companies will come to the Big Island?

A. No. They’d lose money, which is why they are not already here. They need flat land, low humidity, high sunlight, deep soil and irrigation. Because the Big Island is so young geologically, these conditions are very rare here. Big tractors make money on the straightaways and lose money on the turns.

Q. Will Bill 113 increase our island’s food self-sufficiency?

A. No. Food self-sufficiency involves farmers farming. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm. Bill 113 would make Big Island farmers less competitive. So it would result in less food self-sufficiency.

Q. Would Bill 113 result in less pesticide applications?

A. No. It’s biotech solutions that result in fewer pesticide applications. Big Island farmers would have to use more pesticides as compared to the rest of the State.

Q. What do farmers think of registering GMO farms?

A. They worry that this would make it easy for ecoterrorists to locate them.

Q. Hector Valenzuela suggested that organic farmers seek high-end markets. Would that help provide food for the masses?

A. It won’t. That solution anticipates a niche production for people who can afford high prices.

Q. Can organics provide sufficient affordable food for the masses?

A. No. There is no winter here to kill off bugs and provide an automatic reset. There isn’t sufficient manure for compost to provide the nitrogen fertilizer, which is the basic building block for protein.

Q. How can biotech solutions give Hawai‘i farmers a competitive advantage over the rest of the world?

A. They leverage our Hawaiian sunshine, which allows us to grow food year round. Also, reducing the cost of controlling insects and diseases that thrive in the humid subtropics gives Hawai‘i farmers a competitive advantage over the rest of the world.

Q. Do you think GMOs are safe?

A. Yes. Every major scientific organization in the world has endorsed the use of GMOs. Two trillion meals have been served with no harm done. Hawai‘i seniors have the longest life expectancy in the nation.

Q. Do you think RoundUp is safe?

A. Yes.

Q. Why do you think RoundUp is safe?

A. We know that the herbicides we used 25 years ago were much more toxic. Today, we have the ability to detect minute amounts of chemicals, and we must put things into perspective. One could take a sample of sea water and detect gold. But that doesn’t mean we would invest money in a business to mine gold from the ocean. We farmers have been taught, over and over, that the dose makes the poison. We need to use common sense.

Q. In your 35 years of farming, what do you consider to be the most important trend that will affect our future?

A. The price of oil has quadrupled in the last 10 years, which has caused farmers’ costs to rise. Farmers cannot pass on their costs as efficiently as others can. Farmers are price takers, rather than price makers. Because it is a finite resource, the oil price will steadily rise and food price will steadily rise as well.

But we can leverage our sun resource with new biotech solutions. We can take advantage of our year-round growing season and lower our cost to control pests and diseases and therefore lower the cost of food production. This will increase our Big Island residents’ discretionary spending, which makes up two-thirds of our economy. By doing this, we take care of all of us, not just a few of us.

Q. What do you suggest?

A. Defer Bill 113 and form a committee of stakeholders and experts to focus on Big Island solutions to future food security. It should not be political. It should be a solution that takes care of all of us, not just a few of us.


We Are Unwilling To Be Led To The Slaughter

Richard Ha writes:

I was part of a four-person panel at the recent GMO Summit. I was spokesperson for the farmer group that organized a convoy around the County building a short time ago. The others were

  • Kamana Beamer, who gave the cultural perspective, which is the long term view of things
  • Hector Valenzuela, who presented a negative view of biotechnology
  • Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, who gave a pro-GMO point-of-view.

Three of the speakers, then, all coming from different perspectives, were pro-GMO. I will ask the speakers if they are willing to give a synopsis of their presentation, and if so, I will post them here.

As farmers, our primary concern is that banning the use of GMOs only on Hawai‘i Island, while allowing them to be used on the other Hawaiian islands, will slowly but surely drive us out of business. We are unwilling to be led to the slaughter.

Here is what I presented at the GMO Summit:

Aloha. I am Richard Ha. Although we have a farm, I am here today as a representative of Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United. This is a spontaneous farmer group that recently organized a convoy of more than 50 cattle, papaya and other farm trucks, as well as nearly 200 farmers, around the County building. It consists of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, the Big Island Banana Growers Association, the Big Island Cattlemen’s Council, the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association and various Farm Bureau chapters.

In all my time in farming, I have never seen farmers so united and concerned about one issue. Why are they so concerned? Because they feel their survival is at stake.

Farmers are price takers, not price makers, and when the cost of energy quadrupled in the last 10 years, we farmers could not increase our prices to cover the increase in cost. We know how vulnerable we are to rising oil prices. The anti-GMO bill takes away future cost-saving tools for farming.

Here’s a reality check on growing food.

Hawai‘i is located in the humid subtropics and it is a weed, bug and plant-disease paradise. We have no winter here to help us kill off bugs.

Farmers are not pesticide-crazed sprayers of toxic chemicals. They use cost-effective solutions to the pest problems of their particular crops. They use what’s least toxic, because they don’t want to harm themselves. They don’t overspray, because that wastes money. Farmers have common sense.

When we send farmers into battle against the pests, don’t shoot arrows at their backs. When we send them into battle against pests that use cannons, don’t send them out with swords and clubs.

If we do not want the large biotech companies to grow corn for seed, then write a bill that prohibits that. If we do not want GMO foods at all, then start with corn flakes and soda and ban those.

Consider these facts:

  • Hawai‘i imports more than 85 percent of its food. That’s almost all of our food.
  • Hawaii uses oil to generate more than 70 percent of its electricity. The U.S. mainland, which is both our supplier and our competitor, uses oil for only 2 percent of its electricity – so its costs are not skyrocketing from rising oil prices as much as ours are.
  • The price of oil has quadrupled in the last 10 years, and will probably go higher.
  • As oil prices rise, Hawai‘i becomes less and less food secure.

These are the realities that Big Island farmers face every day. We must be one of the least food secure places in the world.

“Food security” means being able to get adequate and sufficient food, regardless of where it comes from. These days, it comes from all over the world. We are able to buy food from all over because money comes into our economy from the outside, with military spending and tourism being primary contributors. That provides us with money to pay for general services to our society and to buy our food.

Food security involves farmers farming. If the farmer makes money, the farmers will farm. And if the farmers make money, then their products will be competitive with imported foods. And that will mean lower cost foods for all.

Try to encourage those things that gives our farmers a competitive advantage. Leverage our sun that shines all year long. Don’t ban GMO corn that can give our cattle ranchers a fighting chance.

Maybe we can grow the grain that will encourage poultry farms and fish, too.

If we had poultry and cattle manure, our organic farmers would have a nitrogen source that could help them produce food for a profit.

Let’s all sit down and talk. Farmers are not the enemy.

In the 1800s, our Hawaiian population went from an estimated 700,000 to 50,000. We almost went extinct.

I’m sure they would have used new technology vaccines if they had been available.

Farmers have looked at all sides of the argument and have come down on the side of peer-reviewed science.

I would like to make one farmer observation about pesticides. The
dose makes the poison.
Margaret Wille said she wants to ban the use of Roundup. Senator Ruderman introduced a bill to ban Roundup last session.

Let’s say there is a four-foot patch of weeds that one wants to control using Roundup. The amount of spray needed, which is already diluted 50-1 with water, is less than the thickness of a piece of typing paper. By contrast, rainfall in one year at Pepe‘ekeo
would result in a column of water 10 feet high over that spot. As I said, the dose makes the poison.

Previous to Roundup, farmers here used Paraquat, which is a skull-and-crossbones grass poison.

We don’t want to go back to that. We need a little bit of common sense here.

Here are three areas of concern to farmers:

  1. Farmers on the other islands would be able to use new biotech seeds, while Big Island farmers would not. I just saw where a British researcher said he developed a technique that would give every plant the ability to fix nitrogen from air. But if other
    islands could use it and we could not, this would eventually put Big Island farmers out of business. The Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV)  threatens the State’s tomato industry, and there is a biotech solution that is ready to be implemented. Again, if other islands can use it while while Big Islanders cannot, this will eventually drive Big Island tomato farmers out of business.
  2. Under Brenda Ford’s bill, papaya and GMO corn farmers and ranchers have 30 months to get out of those crops or they risk 30 days in jail. Making criminals of farmers is just beyond belief.
  3. It isn’t the strongest or smartest that survive, but the ones that can adapt to change. This saying is attributed to Charles Darwin.

Although the bills by Ford and Wille might seem new and different and brave, below the surface they both prevent adapting to change. And that is one of the main reasons why farmers are against both attempts to prevent the planting of bioengineered

Farmers and ranchers have an abundance of common sense. My dad was a farmer. He only went to the sixth grade, but when I was 10 years old, he told me: “Find two solutions for every problem and then find one more just in case.”

He said, There are thousand reasons why no can. I looking for the one reason why CAN adapt to change.


Grass Roots Farming

Richard Ha writes:

Science is great, but there are kids now that go to the
supermarket and think that’s where food comes from.

For me, it all goes back to Uncle Sonny and all the layers of technology that have cropped up since then.







When I first thought about farming, I spent hours and hours
talking to Uncle Sonny Kamahele down the beach at Maku‘u.

I’ve written about Uncle Sonny here and here. He was my Pop’s
cousin, and I learned the basic principles of farming from him.

I had just graduated from UH Manoa with an accounting degree.
I had cost benefit volume analysis and market share on my mind.


Uncle Sonny drove to town once a week. He did not have
electricity or running water, but he always had a stack of U.S. News & World Reports with the current copy on top. He made his living farming watermelon by himself.

One day he told me that he needed to open up a new plot of land because he could not stay at the same place for too long; he didn’t want to get a virus or a wilt of some sort.

Over the days and weeks, I watched him cut grass in the new plot with a sickle and pull it into a roll, and then cart the grass out of his plot in a wheelbarrow. When he wasn’t doing that, he would take a hoe and remove the roots of the grass, because he knew that otherwise it would regrow.

The other types of weed were dormant seeds of broad-leaved weeds that would germinate and pop up. Uncle Sonny would remove these with a hoe, only on dry days, without disturbing too much of the soil. After awhile the seeds would stop germinating.

Uncle Sonny knew that certain weeds could continuously regrow if the roots were not removed, and that others only grew from seed. I noticed that, after awhile, hardly any weeds grew in the new plot, and I thought about how amazing that was.

The lessons I learned from Uncle Sonny? Know what your problem is. Also: no waste time.

My grandma Leihulu lived with us for several years as I was growing up in Waiakea Uka. She grew taro and made poi, and she did the same things as Uncle Sonny. She always had a stack of California grass smoldering, even when it was raining – they were weeds she’d removed the same way he did. It was second nature to her. It was just her lifestyle.

Whenever I see a plot of ground that’s clean like that, it’s pretty obvious to me that they did that with a hoe, and that that is somebody that knows what they’re doing.

As Uncle Sonny got older, he started using pesticides, but because they cost money he was very very careful with them. It saves that part where you have to go and hoe the weeds out and go and pull the seeds out. It saved him a lot of time. It wasn’t very many years later that he started to use Roundup.

When I started farming, we were using skull & crossbones types of poisons like Paraquat. When we switched to Roundup, we didn’t have to use that anymore. It made spraying herbicides so much safer for the farmer.

When you use a chemical like Roundup in conjunction with a 100-hp tractor, you can do 1000 times more than one human can do. That means you can produce that much more food.  But now that herbicides kill everything, you start losing that knowledge; you don’t have to know what the old guys knew.

When Uncle Sonny used herbicides, he always stuck the leaf into it and saw if it worked. If not, he’d add a little more.

He followed the instructions, but he never relied on the instructions for the final result. He knew the formula, but he checked to make sure the result was what he wanted. It showed me that he knew what he was doing. He knew why that particular spreader was in there, and checked the proportions for sure. Not that he doubted, but if he wanted it to work very well, he’d check it himself.

I haven’t seen anybody, not anybody, do that. But I think it was common knowledge with the old folks.

We are so far removed from our food now that we don’t really have a connection with why we’re doing what we’re doing. But we need the basic knowledge. You’ve got to know why you’re doing what you are doing.