LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Agriculture Department and Kauai County announced a joint fact finding effort Tuesday to determine if there are health and environmental impacts from the use of pesticides applied to genetically modified crops.
A panel of at least nine volunteers from Kauai with backgrounds in agriculture, environmental health, toxicology and other scientific fields will study the potential dangers of pesticides applied to genetically modified crops.
"The big question. The meta-question if you will is are people being harmed from pesticides being sprayed by GMO companies?" said Peter Adler, a veteran mediator who will oversee the project. His team includes Bruce Anderson, the former state health director and hospital executive.
Adler said the panel will not produce original research on the impacts of pesticides on GMO crops, but will collect and summarize existing evidence.
"We hope to really present some pretty rigorous inventories of what we know, what we don't know, and what we need to know still and find out," Adler added.
"So many of the conversations have been, we'll call them fact-free conversations, they just have not... People are talking at their conclusion levels and we want to get down to what's the data, what's the evidence?" Adler said.
Ashley Lukens heads the Hawaii Center For Food Safety -- a group that backed the GMO moratorium that Maui County voters approved last month.
"The issue is pesticide exposure and if this joint fact finding can help drive us toward those key questions, I do actually think we'll make progress," Lukens said.
"I only think the joint fact finding process makes sense if it's a part of a much larger process that includes modest regulations for pesticide use," Lukens added.
Her group wants state lawmakers to create pesticide buffer zones around schools across Hawaii, following the lead of 33 other states with similar restrictions.
Rob Stephenson, the head of the Moloka'i Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the Maui GMO moratorium, likes the fact finding effort.
"This is great news. I mean this is the way things are supposed to proceed before we enact any kind of legislation, particularly like the Maui County ballot initiative," Stephenson said.
Stephenson added there would have been "a lot less angst" before the Maui ballot initiative if a similar study had been undertaken before the November vote.
Kauai County is splitting the $100,000 cost of the study with the state Agriculture Department.
"It's all about talking story, getting the right information and then holding everybody accountable and that's the way to get things done," said Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho. "We are going to set an example, I believe, in how we manage ourselves on critical issues that affect our people and then go from there."
The group expects to hold about eight meetings and plans to issue a report by the end of next year.
Adler has used the fact finding process in other controversial issues ranging from geothermal energy to transportation.
"My hope is that this will really create a good precedent for how to deal with politically difficult and technically and scientifically challenging issues. We need models like this," Adler said.