Hawai'i Is the Latest Battleground Over Genetically Modified Crops
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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.
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.
The 84-page suit claims that the Kauai law was explicitly drafted “to discriminate against GM seed farming operations on Kauai” and that it violates their federal and state constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.
“Bill 2491 irrationally prohibits Plaintiffs from growing any crops, whether genetically modified or not, within arbitrarily drawn buffer zones inapplicable to other growers, and restricts Plaintiffs' pesticide use within those buffer zones,” the suit states. It says that if the companies are forced to reveal the location of their transgenic crop fields they will face the risk of “commercial espionage, vandalism, and theft” and that all these “burdensome operational restrictions and civil and criminal penalties” have no legal justification and would hurt their businesses economically. It says the bill was “tailored to avoid impacting others who use pesticides on Kaua’i to grow non-GM crops and for other purposes.”
Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman told Reuters that the ordinance attempts to regulate activities over which counties in Hawai’i have no jurisdiction. “These activities are already regulated by governmental agencies under state and federal laws," he said. *
The biotech companies mainly grow seed crops on the island, including soybean, canola, rice and seed corn — which is Kauai’s number one crop. But they also have trial plots where they test genetically modified seeds for pesticide resistance. Hawaii’s warm climate allows for three corn crop harvests in a year, which makes it a perfect place to experiment with seeds. The companies say Kauai’s climate gives them the "the invaluable opportunity to triple or quadruple the pace of development of GM crops."
It’s this “triple or quadruple pace of development of GM crops” that has been of increasing concern to many islanders and what led to the passage of the bill in the first place.