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Hawaii’s GMO Battle: Federal Judge Strikes Down Kauai’s Pesticide Regulations

Hawaii’s GMO Battle: Federal Judge Strikes Down Kauai’s Pesticide Regulations

Written by Mark Ludwig

A federal judge in Hawaii has struck down a local ordinance that would have regulated pesticide use at farms on the island of Kauai, where four of the world’s largest agrichemical companies take advantage of long growing seasons to develop genetically engineered crops seeds, also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

On August 23, US Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren ruled in favor of Syngenta, BASF, DuPont Pioneer and Agrigenetics, an affiliate of Dow Chemical in their challenge of Kauai County’s Ordinance 960, arguing that the local ordinance illegally pre-empted state laws regulating pesticides.

“This decision in no way diminishes the health and environmental concerns of the people of Kauai,” Kurren wrote in the order overturning the ordinance. “The court’s ruling simply recognizes that the state of Hawaii has established a comprehensive framework for addressing the application of restricted-use pesticides and the planting of GMO crops, which presently precludes local regulation by the county.”

The Kauai County Council passed Ordinance 960 in November 2013 after months of protests and divisive public debate that put the tight-knit island at the center of the global controversy over pesticides and GMOs.

The ordinance is one of the first grassroots attempts to regulate some of the world’s largest GMO seed producers at the local level.

Residents of Waimea, a working-class community nestled between facilities operated by the four companies, are worried that pesticide drift from the GMO seed plots is poisoning local waterways and exposing their children to toxic chemicals linked to cognitive disorders and birth defects. Other activists on Kauai fought to pass Ordinance 960 because they oppose GMO agriculture in general.

The ordinance established buffer zones between GMO seed farms where pesticides are sprayed and sensitive areas like schools and hospitals. It also required the companies to notify nearby residents about pesticide applications while researchers study the impacts of the chemicals on the environment.

Although the ordinance was originally scheduled to take effect earlier this month, the court pushed that date back to October. Now it is unlikely that the ordinance will take effect in October, unless the defense quickly wins an appeal.

The four agrichemical companies on Kauai have reported using a combined 18 tons of “restricted-use” pesticides annually. Under federal law, only technicians with special training can apply restricted-use pesticides because they may pose threats to the environment or human health.

recent investigation by the Cascadia Times found that, on average, the GMO seed companies on Kauai annually apply more restricted-use pesticides — such as chlorpyrifos — per acre than farms in most states in the mainland. The amount of restricted-use pesticides applied on Kauai is 10 times greater than the national average.

Researchers have linked some of these chemicals to health problems, especially in children. Two of the pesticides, paraquat and atrazine, are banned in the European Union but remain popular in the United States.

The agrichemical firms rigorously opposed Ordinance 960 and rallied their workers in protest as the county council considered the legislation. After the council passed Ordinance 960, the companies quickly filed a legal challenge while aggressively lobbying state lawmakers for support.

The companies claim that the GMO crop seed facilities on Kauai are an economic boon for the island and are already subject to adequate state pesticide regulations. Ordinance 960, they told the court, interfered with the existing regulatory system and put an undue burden on their operations.

Attorneys for Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety helped Kauai County defend the ordinance in court. “This battle to protect Kauai and its residents from the effects of toxic pesticides is only just the beginning,” Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said in a statement. “We do not accept that people must put up with toxic chemicals being sprayed near their homes and schools and will keep fighting for their right to protect themselves.”

Ordinance 960 proponents point out that Judge Kurren also ruled that the ordinance is not pre-empted by federal law, leaving room for advocates to make legislative pushes at the state level and continue fighting in federal appeals court.

“This issue is not going away. Wherever the battle is, the people will be there,” said Gary Hooser, a Kauai county council member and architect of Ordinance 960.  ”If it’s at the state legislature, we will be there. If it’s in a court of appeal, we will be there. The people of Hawaii have learned too much to go backwards.”

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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100 comments

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8:30PM PDT on Sep 12, 2014

Kauai just got the shaft. That judge did not listen to facts just to dollars for big ag. I hope they keep up the fight because I believe individual areas should be able to make their own decisions especially related to food sources.

6:58PM PDT on Sep 10, 2014

Over the years, of all the crops planted here, of what does get an insecticide seed treatment on the seed has no effect on the bees. They do NOT visit corn, they don't really go for soybeans either. They mainly go for wildflowers, sunflowers, canola, alfalfa, clover and fruit trees. All area's that are untouched by sulfoxaflor or neonicotinoid. Butterflies are not seen much in soybeans due to the difficulty of reaching the flowers. the Main thing is to keep the soybean aphid taken under control whether naturally or if needed, insecticide. Natural predators is preferred by all farmers, but only use an insecticide if needed, but the broadcast of spray is more toxic over a much wider area and causes more harm to non target species. Much like cities spraying for mosquito's and killing every other insect within city limits. Farmers use much less insecticide than the cities on a per acre basis. Farmers don't care about how bad mosquitoes get....

6:39PM PDT on Sep 10, 2014

Mark, It's the farmers that choose what to plant. Not you, not the seed companies. The seed companies have a long list of choices of what to plant, the farmer simply picks the best ones from that list.

5:37PM PDT on Sep 10, 2014

Hawaii does not have a choice if it wants to survive, it must get a backbone and stand up for itself. It is at risk from attack by US Agribusiness. They must throw out all Agribusiness criminals from their island forever. Hawaii once had some of the most diverse species found on this planet. No more, thanks to greedy Agribusiness terror.

11:48AM PDT on Sep 8, 2014

noted

3:01AM PDT on Sep 8, 2014

noted

12:03AM PDT on Sep 8, 2014

Mark, get your ass out of the city and go see and work on a farm Yourself! Only then will you ever know what farmers have to deal with! Soybean aphids are a Major part of why the systemic insecticides are being used where they need to be. Farmers are doing what they can to avoid having to broadcast spray an insecticide more than they have to due to the Soybean aphid. Some regions such as where I live the seed applied systemic insecticides are not effective due to their lifespan of 6 weeks after planting. I don't work for any corporation, I work for myself, have to deal with the soybean aphid every 1 to 3 years here. GMO's have no effect on insects of any pollinator species. Roundup has no effect on any insect. I have done more research on this than you ever have! I know what has to be done to save butterflies, that is in the works, it is a way to keep the aphids from ever getting established in soybeans. The natural enemies of aphids only works to a certain degree. It's why there is to be no spraying to kill the aphids unless they go over 250 per plant. The bee is on a whole different issue and has nothing to do with this. That has to do with a tiny mite that carries a virus that kills the bee. If you ever did the research, you would know this. They have been tracking the mysterious bee deaths for 50 years, only recently have they found the cause. The only cure is how to get rid of the mites within a colony without k

8:42PM PDT on Sep 7, 2014

your criminal gang registered a new insecticide called sulfoxaflor even though the EPA's own scientists considered the product to be similar to neonicotinoids and "very highly toxic" to honeybees. This is an added attack on the earth that is furthering the agendas of the Agribusiness criminals, a complete collapse in pollinator species populations.

8:37PM PDT on Sep 7, 2014

Kyle N. is a paid corporate shill.

He makes that very clear when he supports a toxic destroyer of the agribusiness criminals, one of the most destructive poisons on the planet.

See that butterfly Kyle displays as his logo? That is one of the pollinators that Kyle is spreading his propaganda to wipe out from the face of the earth. Nice try Kyle go back to your masters and tell them they failed. And this has nothing to do with Aphids, Kyle and you know it. The GMO poisons wipe out the insect species that are natural controllers of Aphids, so you have to pile on the murdering toxins even more, creating a vicious spiral.

Kyle the propaganda from the Agribusiness gang that is paying you is not working. You should be banned from agricultural profession. You are attacking the earth, and that will not be tolerated

Guess what, Kyle? Native pollinators like birds, the butterfly you so arrogantly display that you are trying to kill off, the bees play an essential role in the environment and are an indispensable part of any agriculture. Foods human eat depend on crops pollinated by honeybees and 90% of all flowering plants require pollinators to reproduce. In recent years, bees and other pollinators have been disappearing at alarming rates. Since lethal insecticides like neonicotinoids first became widely used in the mid-2000s, a third of America's honeybee colonies have collapsed each year. Recently your criminal gang registered a new insecticide called sulfoxaflor even t

8:25PM PDT on Sep 7, 2014

Monsanto is factually a global terrorist organization. They are not only responsible for the deaths of millions, they are attacking future generations and the very future of all life on the earth. Monsanto and its partners in crime in companies like Syngenta are the stuff of nightmares, a company run by the worst possible criminal psychopaths. Any decent citizen and government on the earth must stop them with an even greater urgency than existed for stopping stellar criminals in history like Hitler. This is a terrorist organization that must never be allowed to exist.

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