Proposed council bill shows no love for farmers

Maui County Council Member Elle Cochran has proposed a “Bill Relating to Pesticides and Genetically Modified Organizations” that is really close to a bill already passed on Kauai. If passed, it would be devastating to Maui County’s agricultural industry.

The bill threatens farmers by putting horrendous burdens on those who purchase or use in excess of 5 pounds or 15 gallons of any single restricted-use pesticide during the prior calendar year. They must disclose the use of all pesticides of any kind during the following calendar year, and:

* Post warning signs in areas where pesticides may be applied 24 hours before application.

* Post warning signs at time of application.

* Have a daily notification area for workers.

* Provide pesticide preapplication notification to any person requesting it within 1,500 feet from the property line of the commercial agricultural entity where any pesticide is anticipated.

* Establish and maintain a mass notification list where any “interested person” described in the bill can submit up to three local telephone numbers and two email addresses. Mass notification messages may be sent via telephone, text message or email as determined by the commercial agricultural entity. Yet, the farmer must provide an alternative method of transmittal for any recipient who does not have access to the technology selected. And, any request to be included on or removed from the mass notification list must be processed within three business days. (Clearly, someone does not understand that farming is generally done outside in the field, not in the office, and that farmers don’t usually spend their days on database management.)

* Send a regular mass notification at least once during every seven-day period for weekly applications summarizing the anticipated pesticide application for the upcoming week.

* Send mass notifications within 24 hours of any unforeseen pesticide application to address pest threats.

* Provide pesticide post application weekly disclosure reports.

* Have an urgent/emergency care hotline where the commercial agricultural entity must provide extensive information on the pesticide application within six hours of any request from medical practitioners.

* Disclose the growing of any genetically modified organisms and provide annual public reports to different entities.

It also requires farmers to establish pesticide buffer zones of 500 feet, equating to growing acreage loss.

Lastly, it seeks to criminalize and punish them for any violation of said regulations, with minimum fines of $10,000 and not more than $25,000 per day per violation. If convicted, they would be guilty of a misdemeanor, equating to additional fines, imprisonment of a year or less, or both.

Wow! Does is sound like we care about and want to encourage ag? The general public needs to be aware of this bill.

Aside from the most relevant argument, which is that restricted-use pesticides are already strictly regulated by the state and federal government, making this another layer of unnecessary regulatory burdens, it doesn’t appear there is any connection with the fact that many farming operations are small businesses and this amount of bureaucracy could put them out of business.

The County of Kauai passed a similar bill, is now being sued, and is asking the state Legislature for $550,000 to implement its self-imposed legislation. Why should we, the taxpayers, have to pay for Kauai’s unnecessary legislation?

Given the lawsuit, we would prefer this bill be held until the Kauai matter is settled to avoid unanticipated outcomes. However, it will heard Tuesday at 9 a.m. by the Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Council Member Riki Hokama.

It’s time we stop attacks and focus on facts. Ask council members to oppose this bill.

* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.