Aquaponics: Farmers and the DOH debate on safety - Honolulu, Hawaii news, sports & weather - KITV Channel 4

Aquaponics: Farmers and the DOH debate on safety

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There's a growing debate between farmers and the Department of Health over just how safe aquaponics really are. Some farmers feel their businesses are being threatened, but it all comes down to a decades old law that the Department of Health admits could be outdated.

Liesel Santimer was emotional the day the Department of Health came to her small farm in Waiea with some bad news.

"Friday the health department comes to my gate and he says i just want to tell you we're going to tell all restaurants not to buy aquaponic lettuce," says Santimer, an aquaponic producer retailer.

A customer had found a bug in his food ordered at a restaurant recently that traced back to Santimer's farm.  The restaurant was issued a stern warning from the Health Department amid a recent rat lung worm scare. However, Santimer says she believes the bug was actually larvae, not a slug associated with the disease. 

Santimer said in response, "A syrphid larvae is a predatory bug and it eats aphids. Its a good bug to have. Because i don't spray my lettuce but the nature takes care of the aphids with this syrphid fly."

The bug was not confirmed to be dangerous, but it did set off a chain of events that now has the department of health possibly enforcing a 30-something year-old law that was written well before the emergence of aquaponics. 

"There are no specific laws on aquaponics. What we have is a rule that's in our sanitation rules that basically states that when you grow vegetables that are normally eaten raw you cannot sell them or market them if they're subjected to contamination from animal waste or  actual animal waters," said Peter Oshiro, Environmental Health Program Manager, DOH.

A farmer who wants to remain anonymous, says this law does not make sense because all water from streams or other natural sources have fish waste in it. Plus, all soil has some type of animal waste in it, whether its from worms, birds or something else.

Santimer says the fish water is just like any other fertilizer.

Oshiro says his department is lacking research on aquaponics, but he looks forward to starting a dialogue. 

"We're open to any type of new technology that arises. The first people we're going to have to talk to is the aquaponics farmers. And what we're going to ask them is if they have any science to show us if what they're doing is safe and the recirculating waters is free from pathogens," said Oshiro.

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