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Hawaii Introduces Bill to Block Local GE and Pesticide Bans
In the latest attempt to suppress the voice of local communities and scuttle the implementation of laws to protect health and the environment, last week a bill was introduced in the Hawaii State House of Representatives that will preempt (block) local governments from restricting the use of hazardous pesticides and genetically engineered (GE) crops. Though House Bill 2506 is being promoted as the expansion of the state’s “Right-to-Farm Act,” the bill will prevent the implementation of new laws recently passed in Kauai and Hawaii County.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
“Both of these bills take away 100 percent of the authority of the county to regulate agriculture, which includes pesticides," Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser explained to The Garden Island. "It is without question an attempt to nullify Ordinance 960 (formerly Bill 2491), as well as the ordinance passed on the Big Island.”
Local communities in the Hawaiian Islands fought a number of hard-won battles last year against intrusions by agrichemical companies spraying pesticides and planting GE crops near where they work, live and go to school. After massive outpourings of public support, numerous late-night council sessions, and overcoming a mayoral veto, Kauai County passed Bill 2491. Kauai’s Ordinance 960 requires public disclosure of pesticides and GE crop locations, buffer zones around sensitive environmental sites, such as schools, hospitals and shorelines, and an Environmental and Public Health Impacts Study on the utilization of pesticides and GE crops by the giant agrichemical companies on the island.
On the heels of Kauai’s victory, Mayor Billy Kenoi of Hawaii’s Big Island signed Bill 113 into law, restricting the planting of any new GE crops. “With this new ordinance we are conveying that instead of global agribusiness corporations, we want to encourage and support community-based farming and ranching,” said the Mayor in a letter to the Hawaii County Council.
The Hawaiian Islands provide some of the most fertile growing conditions on the planet, allowing agrichemical companies to plant up to three seasons of corn in one year. However, along with the continuous planting of corn and other GE crops is the continuous use of herbicides that these crops are modified to withstand. GE agriculture puts farmers on the pesticide treadmill. After farmers begin routinely spraying herbicides, weeds develop resistance to the chemical, requiring increased amounts of herbicides.
According to a 2012 study, the use of herbicides required to deal with resistant “superweeds” grew from 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to 90 million pounds in 2011. But it doesn’t stop there. Now, agrichemical companies have gone to the back of the toolshed, resorting to older and increasingly toxic herbicides such as 2,4-D, half of the mixture that made up the deadly defoliant Agent Orange, which was sprayed during the Vietnam War. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recommended that these 2,4-D crops be allowed on to market despite evidence already showing resistance in certain areas of the county and serious concerns about human and environmental health.
Most herbicide-resistant GE crops don’t produce their own insecticide, like some GE crops do, so along with a regular dousing of herbicides is the frequent use of toxic insecticides such as chlopyrifos, a potent neurotoxin (banned for most residential use due to risks to children) that has been used on corn fields near schools in Kauai while children were in school. Below, concerned schoolteachers and parents documented this occurring in a Syngenta field in 2007 despite assurances from the company that it would wait until after the school day is out:
Kauai’s Ordinance 960 takes steps to prevent trespass by implementing commonsense, health-protective pesticide buffer zones around sensitive sites such as hospitals, schools, and neighborhoods. The ordinance promotes accountability by requiring agrichemical companies to disclose where they are spaying pesticides and planting GE crops. Hawaii County’s Bill 113 would also prevent pesticide incidents from occurring by stopping the growth of the agrichemical industry and their new, more dangerous GE crops on the Big Island.
State legislators should take heed and recognize the importance of these local ordinances. Advocates have argued that the “Right-to-Farm” for private profit should never trump a community’s right to freedom from hazardous chemicals.
Agrichemical companies are suing the Kauai County government to stop the implementation of Ordinance 960, claiming that the state law already preempts the county from taking action. However, as Beyond Pesticides pointed out in a recent Pesticides and You article, “State Preemption Law,” Hawaii is one of seven states that currently do not have regulations that would preempt local ordinances from enacting requirements more strict than the state’s. Hawaii House Bill 2506 would reverse that and roll back the right of local communities to take a stand against inadequate state and federal pesticide regulations. You can submit testimony on HB2506 by going to this link.
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In a pilot study at the University of Helsinki, dogs trained as medical diagnostic assistants were taught to recognize the previously unknown odor signature of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus. And they learned with astonishing success: After only a few weeks, the first dogs were able to accurately distinguish urine samples from COVID-19 patients from urine samples of healthy individuals.
Important Findings for Other Teams<p>The very rapid and promising findings from Finland are also important for other research teams, such as those in Great Britain and France, who are training sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19.</p><p>Fellow researchers from the <a href="http://assistenzhunde-zentrum.de/index.php/news/covid-19-hunde" target="_blank">German Assistance Dog Center (TARSQ)</a> have also benefited from the Finnish results.</p><p>"No one could tell us with certainty whether training with the aggressive virus is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/dutch-house-pets-test-positive-for-coronavirus/a-53460111" target="_blank">dangerous or not for humans and dogs</a>. We wanted to gather more information first before we started training because the German virologists advised us against it — after all, so little is known about the virus so far," explains Luca Barrett from TARSQ.</p>
Where Does the Characteristic Smell Come From?<p>It is still unclear which substances in urine produce the apparently characteristic COVID-19 odor. Since SARS-CoV-2 not only attacks the lungs, but also causes damage to blood vessels, kidneys and other organs, it is assumed that the patients' urine odor also changes. This is something which the dogs, with their highly sensitive olfactory organs, notice immediately.</p><p>Certain diseases appear to have a specific olfactory signature that trained dogs can sniff out with amazing accuracy, Barrett says.</p><p>"According to one study, dogs can detect breast cancer with a 93% probability, for example. And lung cancer with a 97% probability," she says.</p><p>But dogs can also identify skin cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer or prostate cancer very reliably, according to Barrett. "The hit rate, which was not so good in the early days of training, has risen enormously in recent years," she says.</p>
Hit Rate Decisive<p>Besides cancer, the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dog-makes-1-million-drug-bust/a-53433307" target="_blank">dogs</a> can also detect Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's sufferers smell different even years before they have the disease. "That's how we came up with the idea of training dogs as an early warning system for Parkinson's," Barrett says.</p><p>Dogs are also trained to detect malaria, but the hit rate is not yet satisfactory, she says. So far, the dogs recognize seven out of 10 infected persons, which is not enough.</p><p>A high hit rate is, of course, also absolutely necessary when training for the aggressive SARS-CoV-2 pathogen, according to Barret. "We hope that the hit rate for the coronavirus is significantly higher in the fully trained dogs; after all, it would be very dangerous if COVID-19 were not detected," she says</p>
Trained Tracking Dogs<p>Dogs' ability to smell is about a million times better than that of humans. Humans have about 5 million olfactory cells, compared with 125 million for dachshunds and 220 million for sheepdogs.</p><p>Dogs also inhale up to 300 times per minute in short breaths, meaning that their olfactory cells are constantly supplied with new odor particles. In addition, dogs' noses differentiate between right and left. This spatial sense of smell allows the animals to follow a trail more easily.</p><p>During the training sessions, the dogs — mostly Labrador retrievers or retrievers in general, but also cocker spaniels or sheepdog breeds — are each trained for one scent. That can be the smell of a drug or an explosive, or, as here, the olfactory signature of a specific disease.This means that one dog cannot recognize several types of cancer.</p><p>The animals are trained with containers holding samples of breath or sweat, for example. As soon as they have identified the smell they are looking for, the dogs hear a click and get a treat. They are reliably trained for the one smell on this reward principle.</p>
Great Potential, Great Skepticism<p>Drug and explosive detection dogs have been used for some time. But trained medical scent detection dogs are also now working in hospitals. For example, they sniff the bodies of patients with suspected skin cancer to try and detect the disease — only with the patients' consent, of course. So these skilled snufflers are helping doctors in diagnosing diseases and detecting them early on.</p><p>However, so far there are only very few medical detection dogs. The dog owners almost always work voluntarily and the trained sniffer dogs live in normal households. There is great skepticism, especially among traditional doctors and health insurance companies, even though the first indications given by the dog have to be followed by further medical tests anyway and a lot of time and costs could be saved by early cancer detection.</p>
Possible Coronavirus Applications<p>If the findings from Finland are confirmed, the sniffer dogs with their extremely sensitive sense of smell could prove to be a great help in the fight against the new coronavirus.</p><p>Luca Barrett from TARSQ can easily picture coronavirus sniffer dogs being used in situations where there is a high risk of infection. For example, people attending football matches and other major events could be checked before they are admitted.</p><p>The dogs could also be employed at airports to scan people entering a country. "When the dogs go down the queue, they can detect if someone is healthy and can enter the country. But if a person smells of COVID-19, the handler could send that person to a coronavirus testing center instead," Barrett says. That is because a second test is still needed to confirm the dog's initial sniff detection.</p><p><span></span>Barrett says dogs could also be used to search for the virus on surfaces. For example, before passengers board an aircraft, a four-legged friend could first check whether the machine is free from SARS-CoV-2. Similar measures are planned for doctors' surgeries, aged care homes or nursing homes that have had to be evacuated because of COVID-19 cases. Before these are used again, a sniffer dog could check whether the environment is "clean."</p>
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