Would You Like a Side of Paraquat with Those Potatoes? Mahi Pono has no comment on its alleged misuse of the highly toxic, widely banned chemical
Mahi Pono, Maui’s largest landowner and farming entity, was reportedly warned by an agricultural officer earlier this month for failing to follow proper procedures when applying Gramoxone, a herbicide containing paraquat – one of the most toxic chemicals in use 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 officer said he was on an independent visit to one of Mahi Pono’s potato fields in early January when he smelled the unmistakable smell of Gramoxone.
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 crop 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. “
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 that 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 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, a handmade panel was put in place.
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 officials with 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 hopes to continue working with Mahi Pono to improve his farming methods.
Mahi Pono officials did not respond when asked last week about this incident or the rationale behind its use of Gramoxone, rather than more environmentally friendly chemicals or practices.
What the company (whose name means “to cultivate morally or correctly”) did last week was to publish a so-called “opinion piece” to commemorate his first birthday. Given the pervasiveness of this Gramoxone story (I mean, come on, it was mentioned on a widely read Facebook page), was it just a coincidence that the article, titled “Mahi Pono Bringing Sustainable Ag to Maui” , appeared? In it, Mahi Pono executive and cheerleader Shan 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 has simply sealed the room with a “No elephant here” sign and expects Maui residents to take his word for it.
“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, nighttime work. Now, some residents may have to worry that in addition to Monsanto / Bayer (which just fined $ 10.2 million for its misuse of pesticides), there is a new entity spitting out pesticides. in Maui who does not intend to be honest with his neighbors.