WAILUKU - County-level legislation that would require mandatory disclosure of information relating to pesticides and genetically modified crops was introduced last month by West Maui County Councilwoman Elle Cochran. She said the proposed measure, titled "Relating to Pesticides and Genetically Modified Organisms," is modeled on a similar measure adopted on Kauai. Its goal is "to inform the public and protect against direct, indirect and cumulative negative health impacts."
The proposed legislation focuses on commercial agricultural entities that use in excess of five pounds or 15 gallons of any single restricted-use pesticide during the prior calendar year. It would require those fitting that description to disclose the use of all pesticides of any kind during the following calendar year.
With regard to pesticides, the bill has multiple provisions. Among them are requirements for posting warning signs prior to application, pre-application "courtesy" notices to neighbors within 1,500 feet and weekly public disclosure reports. It also calls for pesticide post-application emergency care disclosure to need-to-know medical care providers.
Other parts of the measure related to pesticides require buffer zones near schools, medical facilities, day care centers and similar operations. New restrictions would also be placed on the use of pesticides near parks and dwellings, roadways and shorelines.
Provisions in the proposed legislation related to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) include a requirement for annual public reports to include a general description of each GMO, geographic location and dates that each GMO was initially introduced. The report would be provided to the county Department of Environmental Management, the state Department of Agriculture and posted on the county's website.
A two-part environmental and public health impacts study is also included.
Proposed penalties include a civil fine of not less than $10,000 and not more than $25,000 per day. The measure also categorizes violations as a criminal misdemeanor and calls for the imposition of additional fines of up to $2,000 and one year in prison or both.
The measure has since been referred to the council's Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.
Although large-scale agriculture is already regulated by various branches of the state and federal government, in Cochran's view, "the current requirements are simply not good enough for this community. Most protection standards put in place protect the workers but require little to no protection notification to surrounding communities. This legislation is meant to alleviate that oversight."
She also noted, "Worker protection standards are established by the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), and the DOA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) conducts inspections. However, many, including myself, feel that these (criteria) are severely lacking in protection for the general public, surrounding communities and the environment."
Cochran said that while she is aware that those affected by this bill think it is redundant, she disagrees.
"Quite the contrary," Cochran said, "it is because this information is required and documented for the enforcing agencies that it is not an unreasonable request to also notify the public. The legislation is inclusive to our community as a whole. This type of kuleana, or responsibility, should be the prevailing standard in all business practices."
She cited Section 46-1.5(13), Hawaii Revised Statutes, stating: "Each county shall have the power to enact ordinances deemed necessary to protect health, life and property, and to preserve the order and security of the county and its inhabitants on any subject or matter not inconsistent with or tending to defeat the intent of any state statute."
"As a county, we are able to be more strict, but not less strict, than the state," she said.
Asked for comment, Darren Strand, president of the Maui County Farm Bureau, responded via e-mail, "The Maui County Farm Bureau hasn't addressed this issue at the board level, and as such, I am not able to speak on their behalf."
"We have no issues with Elle," the e-mail continued. "We are not a political organization - just simply an advocacy group of farmer/rancher members that share similar concerns and industry issues. Personally, I don't want to see this turn into an 'us vs. them' situation between farmers and community members, and I think we will stay out of the discussion for now."