Friday, August 27, 2004


Public’s help needed
to avert W. Nile crisis


Hawaii officials have issued another alert for the virus spread by mosquitoes that has killed seven people in California this year.

HAWAII may not be able to evade the spread of West Nile virus indefinitely, but public vigilance may help to lessen its potentially devastating effects on the state's human and native bird population.

Although the state's geographic isolation may delay West Nile for a time, constant ocean cargo and air traffic offer ample opportunities for the virus to hitch a ride here.

Migratory birds, like those that visit the islands, are believed to have transported the virus from the Middle East to the U.S. continent in 1999. It has spread from the East Coast, arriving two years ago in California where seven people have died this year from the disease.

Hawaii authorities hope to stave off the virus for the next few months, at least until the end of California's summer since mosquitoes are dormant in winter.

That mosquitoes are the carriers is of particular worry here because the mild weather hosts the bugs year-round, and they are widespread and difficult to control. In addition, the virus could seriously harm native birds that are highly susceptible to exotic diseases.

Government agencies been working aggressively to keep the virus from our shores, capturing and testing mosquitoes that can transmit disease, removing standing water where the insects breed, asking residents to report dead birds -- indicators of possible viral infection -- and alerting doctors to watch for patients with the disease's symptoms.

But government can't do it all. The public can support the effort by watching for and reporting dead birds so they can be tested. Because the virus can't be transmitted from bird to humans, health officials say there is no danger in handling a carcass, but the squeamish can call 211 for instructions.

Residents should also get rid of containers of water around their homes and yards to eliminate breeding areas. They should see their doctors if they experience fever, head and body aches, rashes or swollen lymph glands.

Only about 1 percent of those infected develop West Nile encephalitis, a condition that inflames the brain and causes death. However, once the virus is established in Hawaii, eradication may be impossible. The public's support is necessary to foil West Nile as long as possible.


Imported orchids will
nip isle industry in the bud


The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a rule that will permit imports of orchids from Taiwan.

HAWAII growers have reason to be alarmed about a federal government rule to allow Taiwan to sell potted orchids in the United States. If local farmers are unable to block the imports, the Asian country could eventually dominate the market and severely damage another small, but developing agricultural industry in the state. Taiwan imports also pose an environmental threat by introducing insects that can carry plant diseases harmful to three species of indigenous orchids and other crops.

Against the $2 billion global industry, Hawaii's $24.4 million wholesale orchid production seems like small potatoes except when the livelihood of hundreds of growers and the desirability of sustaining agriculture are taken into consideration. Moreover, potted-orchid cultivation is the fastest-growing segment of the state's nursery business.

Taiwan's initial foray into the U.S. market would be limited to phalaenopsis varieties, which are the mainstay of the industry, according to a report in The New York Times. However, because Taiwan's cheap labor and government subsidies that cover almost all of the costs for start-ups and production, Hawaii farmers fear that the doors will soon be open for other types of orchids as well.

Growers here have been holding their own in competition with California and Florida, but Taiwan's entry will tip prices lower and cut into already thin profit margins.

In approving the imports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture looks at the benefits in propping up trade for Taiwan. More consumers will be able to buy potted orchids that at one time were enjoyed only by the wealthy and demand will create about 1,500 jobs in Taiwan as it seeks to replace its faltering sugar industry.

Ironically, it was Hawaii's loss of sugar to cheaper imports that pressed the state to diversify into other crops, including orchids and other nursery crops. Now, as that segment is growing, imports again will nip that effort in the bud.

While the USDA acknowledges that domestic growers will be displaced, the government believes the increase in trade is worth more than the state's "insignificant" stake, according to a final regulatory report. It views local growers' environmental concerns as a red herring, and the Taiwan government insists that its controls will negate any issues about unwanted pests. However, Japan has intercepted many shipments of Taiwan orchids because of insects or disease.

Hawaii growers are challenging the USDA rule in federal court and although it may be a David vs. Goliath fight, state leaders should stand my them. What may be insignificant in the global view looms large from a local perspective.




Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

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