Hawaiian GMO Laws Subject of Dow, Syngenta and DuPont Legal Battle

Agribusiness firms say Kauai Island legislation limiting cultivation of genetically modified crops and pesticide use is unconstitutional

Published on: Jan 14, 2014

Three large agribusinesses have filed for an injunction in a Honolulu U.S district court against Kauai Island legislation that limits cultivation of genetically modified crops and pesticide use.

The legislation, Kauai ordinance 960, establishes pesticide buffer zones around schools and hospitals, mandates disclosure of pesticide use, and requires disclosure of the type and location of any genetically engineered plants they grow. It is set to take effect in August.

The companies – Syngenta, DuPont and Agrigentics, Inc., a Dow affiliate – filed the suit Friday, suggesting that the legislation is unconstitutional.

Speaking to Reuters, Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart said the ordinance is invalid.

Agribusiness firms say Kauai Island legislation banning cultivation of genetically modified crops and pesticide use is unconstitutional
Agribusiness firms say Kauai Island legislation banning cultivation of genetically modified crops and pesticide use is unconstitutional

"It (the ordinance) arbitrarily targets our industry with burdensome and baseless restrictions on farming operations by attempting to regulate activities over which counties in Hawaii have no jurisdiction. These activities are already regulated by governmental agencies under state and federal laws," Minehart told Reuters.

The three companies lease about 11,000 acres on Kauai, growing a mix of biotech corn, soybeans, canola and rice, Reuters reported. The warm climate allows speedier development of new varieties.

Groups joining the fight against the companies' suit include the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety and environmental law group Earthjustice. After the ordinance was approved in October, the groups vowed to intervene if chemical companies challenge it in court.

"The chemical industry has been using bullying and misinformation all along to try to derail this law," Earthjustice Managing Attorney Paul Achitoff told activist group Hawaii seed. "They consider their impacts on the health of Kaua?i's residents as collateral damage. We look forward to defending Kaua?i's families and its environment, and are confident justice will prevail."

The ordinance, which was passed with a 6-1 vote after some 19 hours of debate, is just one of several brewing in Hawaii. In December, a measure to ban GMO crop cultivation, with the exception of GMO papaya, was approved on Hawaii Island. And, a bill was recently introduced in Maui requiring that companies disclose pesticide use and GMO cultivation.

Hawaii has also grappled with labeling issues. Discussion on a state House bill requiring labels on imported GMO produce, introduced last year, is likely to resurface, given the discussion about GMO cultivation.