Biotech Companies Sue Kauai Over GMO Law

by Maureen Nandini Mitra / Earth Island Journal

As was expected, Big Biotech’s legal juggernaut has rolled into action in Hawai’i. On Friday afternoon, three big agrochemical companies — Pioneer-DuPont, Syngenta, and Agrigenetics Inc (a subsidiary of Dow Chemical) — filed a suit in a federal court in Honolulu seeking to block Kauai County’s new GMO regulatory law. Two other big agribusiness concerns on the island that will be affected by the law — Kauai Coffee and BASF — haven’t joined the suit.

Dust drift from tilling on a Dow Agrosciences field in Kauai. Many island residents are concerned about the health and environmental impact of the large volumes of pesticides being used in fields being cultivated by biotech companies. Photo by Samuel Morgan Shaw

Dust drift from tilling on a Dow Agrosciences field in Kauai. Many island residents are concerned about the health and environmental impact of the large volumes of pesticides being used in fields being cultivated by biotech companies. Photo by Samuel Morgan Shaw

The law, Ordinance 960 (formerly known as Bill 2491), was passed in November after surviving a veto by Kauai Mayor Barnard Carvalho. (Read my report on the rather torturous process here). It requires agricultural companies and large farms to disclose the type and volume of pesticides they are spraying and the location of their genetically modified crop fields. It also requires the companies to set up buffer zones between fields growing GM crops and public places like schools, hospitals, and parks. The law is scheduled to go into effect August 16.

A similar regulatory bill was introduced on the island of Maui in December, just days after the mayor of Hawai‘i Island, Billy Kenoi, signed into law a bill restricting biotech companies and farmers from growing any new genetically modified crops on that island.

Hawai‘i has turned into the latest battleground of the conflict over genetically modified crops. There’s been a growing grassroots opposition against the five big biotech companies — Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow Agrochemicals and BASF — that have been expanding their operations here, occupying tens of thousands of acres of former sugar and pineapple plantation lands to grow and test transgenic seeds. Hawai‘i currently has the largest number of experimental GMO crops in the United States.

The lawsuit against Kauai is clearly the biotech industry’s first retaliatory salvo against the series of legal initiatives to to curb their activities on the islands.

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