The Biggest Threat to Hawaii Agriculture: Silencing their Voices

So this happened the day before New Year to a local farmer on the North Shore.

Yes, someone decided to set fire to this farmer’s equipment.  What’s even worse is some of the comments that got posted.

This is extremely disturbing to see small farmers being subject to accusations like this.  It’s even more questionable when this farmer is new to speaking up for agriculture on the social media in this group.  The timing of this fire and him speaking up is a little too coincidental.  The fact that these commenters can’t recognize what’s clearly wrong from right is downright scary.

You won’t see the sources of misinformation condemning this action either.  They simply act as if nothing is happening.  This was evident with the unfolding of Bill 2491 saga when vandalism against the farms were being fueled by activists.

Even Roseanne Barr wanted in on the action thanks to Babes Against Biotech’s Nomi Carmona touting crop destruction.

So should we be surprised that their followers are so angry and fearful to even learn?  They can’t even take the time to learn from their local farmers and continue to harm their reputations online if one should try to speak publicly.  Then they point fingers at those who disagrees with them as bullies.

The likes of Ashley Lukens of the Center for Food Safety and Kauai County Council member, Gary Hooser, will never come out and condemn any of this kind of behaviors either.  It’s simply ignored.  It can’t be ignored anymore if it threatens that 1.8% of folks who grow Hawaii.  Anyone who supports people like this clearly have no aloha and is the biggest threat to Hawaii’s farmers and worst than any nanograms of detected pesticides they complain about.

Here’s another clue as to why people are so afraid of pesticides but really could learn more about the amounts detected.

If ones does a little bit of math and some study of toxicology, it isn’t as scary as it looks.  Let me explain  it with a bit of math and some data available.

So, 2,4-D was detected on a window screen at a level of 47.45 nanograms.  Toxicity is measured by LD50, which means a lethal dose where 50% of the test population is killed.  The LD50 of mice is 375 milligrams/kg of body weight.  That equates to 375,000,000 nanograms to be acutely toxic to mice.  If you have a hard time with metric conversions, there are great calculators to help you calculate this.

If you simply divide that number by the detected amount, you’ll get a figure of 8,247,195.95.  So what does that mean?  It really means that you’ll need nearly 8.2 million times of that detected level to kill a mouse.  That can also explain why there isn’t masses of dead mice or rats found around farms after an application of crop protection products.  But remember here, that’s the dosage to be toxic to a tiny mouse and not a human that is thousands of times larger.

Let’s figure out the toxicity of the other products on that list.

Dicamba was detected at 93.84 nanograms.  The LD50 for this is 1190 milligrams/kilogram of body weight in mice.  That means it takes 1,190,000,000 nanograms to be deadly to a mouse.  It would take 12,684,159.4 times that detected amount to be toxic to a rodent.

So let’s go through the entire list to really determine the toxicity of these products to mice.

Ametryn has an LD50 of 975 milligrams/kilogram of body weight for mice.  It would take 27,280,600.5 times that amount to be harmful to a mouse.

What about the levels of other products? Diuron would need some 32,786,855.2 times the detected amount to kill a rat with an LD50 of 3400 milligrams/kilogram of body weight.  Hexazinone would need some 32,76,885 times that amount to be lethal to a rat.  Pendimethalin has LD50 of greater than 5000 milligrams/ kilogram of body weight for rats.  It would take some 128,369,785 times that amount to be deadly to a rat.

So considering the levels and the measures needed to be harmful to a rat or mouse, to us it’s a different story when put into perspective.  Some people will say that these measures only reflect acute toxicity, which is true.  However, when you look up some of these crop protection products, there is chronic toxicity tests done with animals and most of it turns to be in the milligrams not the minuscule nanograms.

I do have to be thankful for the brave anti-GMO folks that try to spam up pro-science Facebook pages.  They love to post all kinds of things from unsourced memes repeating all of the common mantras but every once in awhile they post a good one that shows the source of their fears.

The great thing about this Department of Agriculture report is that it’s all hard data on there.  One can’t call the nanogram found on there as “propaganda.”  It’s simply data that is measured and clearly shows the truth that is easily skewed by clever politicians who don’t educate or encourage learning.

2016 should be a year of learning in Hawaii.  People need to learn about what they fear and ask questions.  If we don’t start encouraging others to learn, we will lose more aloha and our farmers will be subjected to fearful, angry people like these.

It’s time to learn science.  If our politicians are true leaders, they will support the data and evidence instead of allowing these voices to be used to direct policy.  They will also take responsibility for their actions and all the consequences.  Unfortunately, as we are seeing, these people won’t take such steps.

The real danger isn’t biotech or crop protection products.  It’s the leaders and their followers who steal the aloha spirit from our islands.


Testimony from the pesticide buffer zone bill proposed by Ashley Luken’s group, the Center for Food Safety.


18 thoughts on “The Biggest Threat to Hawaii Agriculture: Silencing their Voices

  1. I’m a big admirer of your blog, but I have to object to your math discussion with nanograms and milligrams. It’s misleading to present the LD50s for evaluation of risk for the chemicals found in this swab sample. No one is likely to be acutely poisoned by these chemicals, even the applicators. However, there is some small possibility that these chemicals could have carcinogenic activity (though all have been determined to have low carcinogenicity). I wouldn’t like to see any herbicides showing up above detection limits on my window screen. How large do you think one swab sample size is? I couldn’t find any documentation, but I’m guessing it’s less than a milligram. If nanograms are detected in a milligram sample, then the concentrations are greater than 1 part per million in dust passing through this person’s house. This could be significant with long term repeated exposure. Personally, I don’t want to be exposed to such high levels (parts per million or higher) of these chemicals. But I’m not anti ag. Hopefully the applicators of these pesticides are doing a good job of preventing soil erosion and pesticide drift. And all industries should be working to minimize impacts to human and environmental health.

    • One issue that makes this appear scary is that the technology to detect this substances are extremely sensitive. The amounts being detected are indeed counter to the claims of crops are being doused. 20 years ago, I somehow suspects that if the same tests were conducted, the amounts likely would have been zero.

      • Sorry but you are starting to sound like the anti-GMO people–using facts but not addressing the issue. The increased sensitivity of the tests can only improve our ability to understand the situation. Hundreds of nanograms of several pesticides found on a sample of dust collected from a swab test are significant amounts if you consider the weight of the sample collected. If all the dust passing through this household contains similar levels of those chemicals, then anyone living in the house is inhaling measurable quantities of these compounds on a daily basis. What effects that may have are unknown. But it is ignorant to declare that these samples are automatically insignificant just because a nanogram is 10^-9 grams, or 10^-6 milligrams. As someone who preaches science, you should know that many chemicals, whether naturally occurring or anthropogenic, can have negative effects on humans, plants, and animals at concentrations ranging from the low parts per billions to parts per millions.

        Anyway I don’t mean to attack you, but since I appreciate this blog so much, I want to do my part to make sure it doesn’t just mirror the same type of anti-GMO misuse of science or “facts.”

      • Kalani, let’s talk simple science here to start. To get a good idea of the detectable amount found, consider what a gram is. A gram of water is a cubic centimeter. That cubic centimeter contains some 100,000,000 nanograms. Think of how tiny that amount is.

        When looking at the chronic toxicity data, click on the links with the LD50 info, you’ll see the amounts given over a period of time is in milligrams. One gram contains 100 milligrams.

        I’m sorry that you feel I’m touting anti-GM like info. I’m hoping to teach some basic concepts in metrics and putting a perspective on the actual amounts. Note that these swab reports may indicate detection however it can’t tell of the source as it shows no data location to affirmatively detect the sources.

        When any information is presented like these reports, more information would be good, like an address to put an idea of where this home may be.

      • From a link: Rats given moderate amounts (50 mg/kg) of 2,4-D in the diet for two years had no adverse effects. Some dogs fed lower amounts of the compound in their food for two years died, probably because dogs do not excrete organic acids efficiently. A human given a total of 16.3 grams in 32 days as “desperation therapy” lapsed into a stupor, showed signs of incoordination, weak reflexes, and urinary incontinence.

        16.3 mg is the chronic dose tested to make a human sick. That equates to 16,300,000 nanograms. The swab detected a very minuscule amount. If you drink coffee daily, you’re likely consuming caffeine that is much more toxic yet isn’t high enough to cause issues.

      • Yes, there are a billion nanograms of water in a cubic centimeter of water. A nanogram is an incredibly small amount of material. But there are many organic and inorganic chemicals that can affect biological activity in such small amounts. For example, the EPA and WHO has set the drinking water limit for arsenic at 10 ppb, which is the equivalent of 10 nanograms of arsenic in a gram (1 cubic centimeter) of water. Very small amounts of arsenic in water can cause skin lesions, vascular disease, cancers, and ultimately, but not immediately, death. Of course, people drink many thousands of grams of water per day, but people also breath many thousands of liters of air per day. If you live in a house with contaminated dust, you are taking many lungfuls of that dust every day. I have no idea how many grams (or milligrams, or nanograms) of dust that equates to, but I think that this scenario presents an unknown but very possible risk to human health. Though I am an environmental and agricultural scientist, I am not an expert on the health effects of these particular chemicals and the level of risk that these concentrations in the home present. However, neither are you, and I have demonstrated that your arguments are full of fallacy. Please take this as a learning opportunity to further strengthen the validity of your blog.

      • I have spoken to toxicologists regarding this issue and do not promote myself as such. I am simply putting a perspective to the claims.

        In produce there are thousands of naturally occurring pesticides that are in these amounts in the food we consume. How can one say with absolute certainty that these things aren’t harmful? It’s about the relative risk. Do we want produce that is bug free or do we take the risk of crops being damaged?

        What many people forget is the bugs being killed by these products are invasive species. Do we want to save these things or do we manage them with inputs?

        Always think about the big goal here and remember the history of growing food. My ancestors struggled to feed their families and now we have no worries about food. You can’t be saving the environment without a farmer. You need a farmer everyday.

        Let them decide on the best way to grow things if you’re not willing to fill their shoes.

      • Joni, you have a very good point with relative risk and the overall big picture. I agree that the pesticides in use now are part of the toolkit for sustainable food production. It is still my opinion that some of your points are fallacy. Only a fool disregards history and believes that history will not repeat itself. As a part of my undergraduate and graduate studies, and professional work, I have researched the environmental chemistry of many types of pollutants that were previously thought to be harmless at low levels. Just study the history of lead, arsenic, TCE, PCE, DDT, and other useful organic compounds. All of these have left their legacy in Hawaii after being used according to regulations by industry and government. Our understanding of chemistry and the effects of chemicals on health and the environment is constantly changing. Thankfully, that is why there are better protocols for the use of pesticides and other industrial chemicals. I am not being an alarmist, just pointing out that using the DOA test that clearly detects significant levels of chemicals may some day counter your arguments that there is no threat to this household’s health.

      • And by the way, I am very much willing to “fill their shoes.” Not all of us are fortunate enough to be born with land or the money and freedom to start a business venture. If you would be kind enough to supply me with a good lease and a loan, I’ll get right on it. All of us have ancestors that struggled to feed their families; in fact my parents grew up in the sugar plantations and struggled quite a bit. That’s why they did their best to get their children away from agriculture. None of us are hating on the sugar industry, but the plantations subjected their workers to racial injustice, heavily polluted with arsenic lands that are now elementary schools (where my mother played as a kid), and exposed their workers to many hazards (my father got cancer, possibly from frequent exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, an uncle died when the tractor flipped on steep sugar land). The sugar industry leveled vast areas of land, wiping out native ecosystems and cultural sites, with no regard to soil and water conservation or to protecting the environment. We need agriculture, but ag is not always perfect and farmers should not be immune to constructive criticism. Yes, “let them decide,” but farmers should also listen to scientists who study agriculture and related issues. Just because you farm, doesn’t mean you know everything about farming or about your farm’s effects on your neighbors and the environment. Farm workers continue to suffer to this day even in Hawaii, and agriculture in Hawaii is still responsible for impacts to health and the environment, both on and off farm. I will continue my work to help farmers to improve their practices to conserve soil and water, reduce inputs, save money, control invasive species, and reduce negative impacts to health and environment.

      • Kalani, I agree that we must minimize impacts but pointing fingers only at agriculture is bad policy when the data points otherwise. As much as the activists claim that the HDOA is not doing their job, spending resources on hundreds of claims that turn up false is a major problem.

        Where’s resources going to educating homeowners? I’m not sure if you’re aware but anyone can buy an RUP by mail order. Where’s the regulation on that? Your neighbor could be using this and you’d never know it. The pest control company can use it and you’d never know it.

    • Exactly! Also let’s say you take a sample of a square foot for these toxins. Sure there’s not enough to kill a mouse, but how does it add up when you have an acres worth of square feet, that creeps into ground water or drains down hill. Not to mention if it happens once twice or more a year.

      • The problem is that these products aren’t being found in the amounts you are asserting in the areas you’re referring to. Hawaii also has trade winds and smaller areas where things are grown. It’s not like we have mailed and miles of farmed areas being sprayed massively by planes day in and day out. By the way, everything can be a toxin in the right dose.

  2. It is a sad state of a society when people have been irrationally driven to the point where they become vandals attacking innocent people. The leaders of this movement need to take responsibility for what they have unleashed

  3. It’s horrible what happened to Twin Bridge Farms! These are some of the most down-to-earth people you will ever find. So, regardless of who set the fire it is a sad state of affairs that we find ourselves in agriculture in Hawaii today. As farmers all of us try our damnedest to eliminate the movement of dust off of our property into our residential neighbors. In fact, at our farm, we have a strict practice of not spraying, or doing any activity that could cause dust or spray to move in the direction of the homes that are right across the street from our property. We make an effort to introduce ourselves to our neighbors and ask them to call us right away if they have any concern about any aspect of our farming that is impacting them negatively (or positively if that is the case). We would like to hear about it first before seeing a Department of Ag or Department of Health regulator, or TV news crew, show up at our door step. Most of the problems between farmers and our non-farmer neighbors can be settled amicably – despite the impression that some in the community would like to portray us as being horrible corporate monsters who don’t care a whit about our neighbors!

    I do think it is incumbent upon us, as farmers, to ensure that we minimize any impact our activities have on our neighbors. The reality is that more and more city folks are moving into country areas where a clash of worlds can take place. My colleague and I were moving a tractor on one of the main roads on Oahu’s North Shore a few years back. It was interesting to see that those with the bumper stickers that said “Keep the Country Country” were the first ones to pass us recklessly when we were moving equipment on those State or County roads. We try our best to keep from backing up traffic, moving off the road onto the shoulder if traffic backs up. But, hey, what makes the country country is farming and ranching, and farmers and ranchers have to move equipment from time to time. Unfortunately we are seeing more and more urban and suburban growth abut agriculture operations which can result in finger pointing and complaining. That is not the way we do things here. We were taught to act out of consideration for others in whatever we did and, in turn, we expected others to act out of consideration for us. And while we may be holding up our end of the deal we are slowly losing traction with our legislators to those who are actively opposed to the way that the majority of us farm. So let’s make 2016 be the year that we reach out to the communities in which we farm and live and for which we have much to be thankful! I think that a cultivation of that relationship will do much to mitigate the lies that are spouted daily by the opponents of modern agriculture.

  4. I’d just like to note that in your argument you are ignoring the per kg body weight part of the LD50. A mouse is much lighter than 1kg (about 20g) and so the dose deadly to 50% of mice is 50 times smaller than the ng numbers you state as required to kill a mouse. You then rightly point out that humans are much heavier and suggest that they would therefore require a much larger dose for lethal effects (I don’t doubt that is true), but it must be mentioned that the LD50s of mice and men are not necessarily the same. I’m not trying to argue against anything you write in this piece, I’m just trying to help make the argument sound.

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