Maui Discussion

LETTER: ‘Stop Cane Burning’ Petition Growing

July 2, 2012, 1:08 PM HST
* Updated July 13, 5:02 PM
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By Karen Chun, Paia

Sugar cane burn_march 20_2012-black-plume

Cane burning over central Maui. Photo by Allison Sickle.

Maui is one of the last places on earth that harvests sugarcane by burning. HC&S produces up to 200,000 tons/year raw sugar, refined sugar and molasses on 36,000 acres which go up in smoke biannually.

Over 200 peer reviewed studies have shown that smoke like this is a factor in lung disease.  The public’s complaints about cane burning have fallen on deaf ears at HC&S.  In fact, people who complain have experienced retribution from individuals angry about criticism of cane burning.  Oregon State successfully banned ag burning but Hawai’i politicians are afraid to go against parent company, A&B and the union which supports it.

The EPA says it cannot stop the burning because their particulate limits are quite high and measured over 24 hours – deliberately so that intermittent sources like agricultural burning will be allowed.  The state Department of Health ignores citizen complaints (one person submitted 100 detailed complaints with location, time and date without any response or action by DOH)  There is only one particulate measurement station on Maui.  What you don’t measure, doesn’t exist in the eyes of the law.

Until our petition, HC&S promoted itself as the sole supplier to the “Sugar in the Raw(R)” packaged by Cumberland Packaging Corp. in New York.  Cumberland says Sugar in the Raw (R) is “all natural” and “healthy.”  Since HC&S ignored our pleas to stop burning, we decided to pressure their customer, Sugar in the Raw (R), hoping that they would, in turn, use their clout to get HC&S to harvest without burning.


As of this writing we have almost 900 signatures on our petition located at And we have another 411 signatures on our Facebook petition.


We’ve already seen an effect on HC&S.  They removed any mention of being Sugar in the Raw’s sole supplier. Our petition is getting noticed and we assume that Cumberland is not happy to see its “healthy” product the subject of CO2 and health complaints.

We hope that with increasing pressure targeting HC&S’s other products, Maui Brand Sugar and C&H Sugar, HC&S will find it commercially damaging to continue burning and will change to solely mechanical harvesting.

Although no-burn harvesting requires an investment in new equipment, it has many advantages.  Cane is harvested every year by cutting and leaving the stub to regrow up to 5 times.  This cuts down on the dust and also the tilling and planting expense.  Most likely this saving in fuel is why the rest of the world uses this method instead of burning.


If you are worried about your lungs, if your kids have asthma, if you have Reactive Airway Disease or if you have another lung disease that is aggravated by cane smoke, please sign our petition and drop by  We are also gathering names of those who have not smoked in the last 10 years, yet have gotten lung disease, for a possible class action lawsuit. If this is you, write to me at [email protected].

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