Would you like a side of paraquat with these potatoes? Mahi Pono avoids questions over his use of highly toxic and widely banned chemical

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Mahi Pono, Maui’s largest landowner and farming entity, was reportedly cautioned by an agricultural extension worker earlier this month for failing to follow proper procedures when applying Gramoxone, a herbicide containing of paraquat – one of the most toxic chemicals used today and one that has been banned internationally.

It’s the story that has traveled through Maui’s farming circles faster than any island bushfire. The incident was originally recounted in casual conversation by a University of Hawaii agricultural extension worker to a farmer in Maui (and then repeated to me by more than half a dozen individuals). ). The farmer said the officer told him he smelled the incomparable smell of Gramoxone during an unrelated visit to one of Mahi Pono’s potato fields in early January.

Gramoxone is the brand name for a herbicide containing paraquat, one of the most toxic chemicals in existence. A teaspoon of this stuff will kill you. It has been banned or phased out in China, Brazil and all countries of the European Union, but still adopted in the United States. Its use in the United States has increased 200% over the past decade and has been linked to diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, according to a recent report from the Center for Biological Diversity. As a Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP), Gramoxone comes with a ‘label’, which is not just the sticker on the front of the product, but a 50+ page document that specifically describes how, where and when the herbicide is to be used. Here is just a brief sample of Gramoxone 3LB from Syngenta.

“Gramoxone 3LB is a contact herbicide that dries out all green plant tissue. Paraquat dichloride is a non-selective herbicide and will cause damage to non-target crops and plants if off-target movement occurs. Great care should be taken to ensure that off-target drift is minimized as much as possible. This product is toxic to wildlife. Do not apply directly to water or to areas where surface water is present. “

Telltale odor

Gramoxone has a distinctive scent inserted into the compound, an odor warning system that can only be detected when the herbicide is active. The warning scent means no humans should be in the area, but during the alleged incident in January, the extension worker said he smelled it while he and others walked away. were walking in the potato field. When the officer confronted the employee in charge of Mahi Pono, he was reportedly told that the use of Gramoxone was according to label directions. The officer reportedly said he reiterated his concerns, as well as the fact that there was no signage indicating its use. Later, the officer said, a hand-made sign was installed.

No official citation was made as he was an academic extension officer with no regulatory influence. It is not known whether he reported the alleged incident to Agriculture Ministry officials who have the authority to issue citations. The agent did not return phone calls or emails from me or others familiar with the incident. The farmer who heard the story directly confirmed the agent’s account but did not want his name used as he said he hoped to work with Mahi Pono to improve his farming methods.

Mahi Pono officials did not respond when specifically asked about the company’s use of Gramoxone or this alleged incident last week. However, following this story’s online posting on Saturday, Mahi Pono executive Shan Tsutsui released a non-denial denial manual on Tuesday that avoided any mention of the word “Gramoxone.”

“Many of our current and future crops are cultivated in a conventional manner,” the statement from Tsutsui said. For the uninitiated, the term “conventional” is agricultural language for the use of non-organic chemicals. “As responsible farmers, we fully comply with all standards and laws of etiquette.

Without directly acknowledging the alleged potato field incident, Tsutsui said only that Mahi Pono “has not received any warnings or citations regarding the inappropriate use of restricted chemicals by the Ministry of Agriculture. ‘Hawaii or any federal, state, or county regulatory agency. . “

Asked about Mahi Pono and possible misuse of Gramoxone, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Agriculture said MauiTime that the Maui Pesticides Branch investigate a “pesticide complaint.” The spokeswoman said no further information would be released until the investigation was completed.

At least we don’t use Roundup …

While the Gramoxone story gained momentum over the past week (I mean, come on, it was mentioned on a widely read Facebook page), Mahi Pono has been busy highlighting another chemical. The company (whose name means “cultivating morally or properly”) published a so-called “opinion piece” to commemorate its first anniversary, titled “Mahi Pono Bringing Sustainable Ag to Maui”. In it, Tsutsui proclaimed his company’s environmental dedication and announced his decision not to use chemical glyphosate concoctions such as Roundup on his crops.

“We have completely discontinued the use of glyphosate, otherwise known as Roundup. [sic], what we know is important to our community and our environment, ”the article quoted (I have no doubt that Tsutsui had nothing to do with the creation of the article; it reads like a mix of lawyers and public relations). He added that the company’s goal is to produce “high yielding” food crops “while fully respecting labeling standards and local laws regarding the use of chemicals …”

Who mentions “labeling standards” and “the use of chemicals” in such a bloated self-congratulatory piece? Rather than confront the Gramoxone elephant in the room, Mahi Pono just sealed the room with a “No elephant here” sign and expected the residents of Maui to take his word for it.

Sustainable agriculture?

“Our long-term goal is to bring sustainable agriculture to Maui,” Tsutsui promised.

According to the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition, “sustainable agriculture” as legally defined by US Code Title 7, Section 3103, means an “integrated system of crop and animal production practices”. These practices include improving “the quality of the environment and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends”.

Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure agricultural sustainability doesn’t include the application of paraquat, the deadliest pesticide in use today. It’s good that Mahi Pono doesn’t use Roundup, but is it really such a noble sacrifice? As Dr. Nathan Donley of the Center for Biological Diversity recently told me in an interview, “Roundup is not used much anymore because weeds have developed resistance to it.

And compared to paraquat, Roundup is about as toxic as tap water.

This latest episode highlights just how appalling Mahi Pono’s behavior has been towards the residents of Maui and our island environment. Residents and visitors have already been exposed to widespread smoke from weed fires, Mahi Pono’s neglected property, and clouds of red dust from his underhanded, nocturnal work. Now, some residents may have to worry that in addition to Monsanto / Bayer (which just paid a fine of $ 10.2 million for its misuse of pesticides), there is a new entity using pesticides. toxic in Maui which apparently has no intention of being truthful or transparent with its neighbors.

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