Wednesday, November 4, 1998

Irradiator clears
Big Island hurdle

Ban against the proposed
food treatment facility
fails by 450 votes

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- Big Island voters' decision to allow a food irradiator means agriculture will flourish, says fruit grower Eric Weinert.

"I just see this whole coast planted in fruits and vegetables and flowers," he said.

But irradiation opponent Naomi Cohen said her organization, Parents Against Irradiation, will seek ways to challenge yesterday's vote against an irradiator ban.

The ban failed by a narrow 450-vote gap.

If an irradiator is built, she said, it could lead to more cancers and a bad reputation for Big Island agriculture.

The state Department of Agriculture, Big Island Mayor Stephen Yamashiro and the Hawaii County Council support the proposal of Steris-Isomedix to build an irradiator as a way to break a logjam in the island's agriculture.

Most island-grown fruits cannot be shipped to the mainland because they are subject to infestation by fruit flies. Shipments to California, for example, might devastate agriculture there.

Both sides accused the other of lies during the heated campaign.

Last night's vote "validates the fact that voters on the Big Island are not swayed by false claims," Yamashiro said.

Weinert, of the irradiation support group Friends of Agriculture, added, "It's a credit that fact won out over fear."

But Cohen countered, "The list of lies that group put out is mind-boggling."

She cited death threats her children received. "They drew an arrow through my daughter's head," Cohen said of a paper she turned over to police.

Fruit grower Brian Paxton questioned that claim.

"We had death threats on the phone to us," Paxton said. "Do you think we went to the media?"

Cohen said one basis for a challenge of the vote might be that county employees spoke against the ban in public forums.

The mayor's office said there was nothing wrong with that, since support for an irradiator is county policy approved by the Council.

About Cohen's fears of radiation producing cancer, Yamashiro saidL: "It's a concrete building with 6-foot-thick walls. I don't think we'll have a problem."

Cohen responded, "I know people make mistakes. I know things break down."

The Green Party and the Vermont-based group Food and Water have threatened to boycott Hawaii products if irradiation goes through.

But Lance W. Hastings of Grocery Manufacturers of America said the boycott will fail.

"It's likely that any boycott will be short-lived," he said. "The public realizes that radiation makes food safe, and they will consume it. That will end any boycott."

All the food John Glenn and other astronauts are eating on their current space mission is irradiated, he noted.

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