Tag Archives: Senator Ruderman

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.

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‘La La La La La’

Richard Ha writes:

Farmers and other Ag and business people on the Big Island are in disbelief – to put it mildly – that Mayor Kenoi signed Bill 113, the anti-GMO bill, last week, without first putting together a group to research the science and investigate the serious, unintended consequences we know will result.

But farmers are very practical and play the position that exists on the chessboard, not the position they wish they had. Most of us are moving into strategic contraction mode now.

For example, we had an application in to the USDA to dedicate 264 acres of our farm into agricultural land for perpetuity. We had been going through the vetting process over the last two years and had already been told we were among the top three state projects, as determined by a Department of Land and Natural Resources subcommittee.

I just received a letter Friday asking for more information about our application, with a comment from the Western Region director stating that our project had the highest priority.

I wrote back saying we are withdrawing our application. Nothing personal; just playing the position that now exists. Instead, we will subdivide the property so we have options as we go forward into a future that has some new uncertainties.

If there’s an upside to the mayor signing the bill, it’s that maybe now we will finally take a real look at the current Peak Oil crisis and how it affects the Big Island’s food self-sufficiency situation, and come to grips with finding long-term solutions.

Being open to safe scientific advances when needed (a.k.a. biotech or “GMO”) would have been a way to decrease our dependence on petroleum products, such as pesticides and fertilizers, and increase our island’s food self-sufficiency.

Geothermal energy is another no-brainer that will protect us from rising energy costs. Utilizing geothermal energy – which according to geophysicists will be available to us for at least 500,000 years – we can have stable electricity at an affordable price. As another benefit of geothermal, we can take the currently “curtailed” (collected but unused) electricity and make hydrogen for ground transportation; and by combining it with nitrogen in the air, we can make fertilizer that doesn’t depend on petroleum products and continue to get more and more expensive.

But Senator Ruderman doesn’t see this and wants to kill geothermal energy.

Why? Where is he steering our ship? It feels rudderless.

These are turbulent times. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was on CNN yesterday saying that despite dumping money into the economy, businesses are sitting on a lot of cash and not investing, and banks are not lending because it’s too risky. 

He said that the level of uncertainty is like it was during the Great Depression. The next Fed chair will have to manage the interest rate, and too high an interest rate will roil the stock market. He said, “It’s hard to manage psychology.”

I do not see people paying attention to this, so let me extrapolate from what he’s saying: As a result, regular folk are not earning as much money. As a consequence of that, the government will not be able to tax people at a level needed to keep services going, such as maintaining roads (which, of course, requires products made from petroleum).

How far will this go on before we can no long maintain our infrastructure the way we are accustomed to, or take care of our poor people who need help?

What Alan Greenspan is talking about is serious business, and he’s certainly not the only person saying it.

This all boils down to the cost of energy, and how we utilize our resources in a smart and efficient manner.

I’ve gone to five Peak Oil conferences now, and have learned that experts there are all, consistently, saying that the net energy available to society is decreasing as it gets more difficult to get the energy. The consequence of this is less growth, which means less money for the government to perform the services we need to continue living the way we live. Where will the money come from?

Another expert who is highly respected is actury Gail Tverberg. She is as credible as anyone I’ve heard, and she too says it all boils down to the cost of energy. Not availability, nor how much oil still exists, but how much it costs to obtain it – and we all know those costs are only going higher. She writes

Oil and other fossil fuels are unusual materials. Historically, their value to society has been far higher than their cost of extraction. It is the difference between the value to society and their cost of extraction that has helped economies around the world grow. Now, as the cost of oil extraction rises, we see this difference shrinking. As this difference shrinks, the ability of economies to grow is eroding, especially for those countries that depend most heavily on oil–Japan, Europe, and the United States. It should not be surprising if the growth of these countries slows as oil prices rise…. Read the rest

Using GMOs to help leverage our year-round growing season was a workaround, and in my opinion, it was much less risky than what Alan Greenspan, Gail Tverberg and other experts say is coming.

We need to take action and prepare for these changing conditions. If it turns out they were wrong, no harm/no foul. If they are right, using GMO's to avoid petroleum costs in fertilizer and pesticides would have helped us immensely; and using geothermal energy will improve our lifestyle measurably.

Note that I’m not just talking about this – the whole situation scared me enough that we went and put in a hydroelectric system for the farm.

This is not about the sky falling. It’s about common sense. It’s all a matter of how much risk we are willing to take.

We need to decrease our dependence on petroleum, and our energy costs. Rising electricity costs affect the price of our food, and they take away discretionary income from the rubbah slippah folks. Consumer spending makes up two-thirds of our economy.

It’s foolish for us to put our thumbs in our ears and our fingers over our eyes and sing, “La la la la la,” but that’s what seems to be going on around here. 

We’d better have a clear-headed discussion about our future.

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