Kaua‘i GMO legal bout enters round two

National non-profits the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice enter the ring on behalf of Kaua‘i County and its under-siege law.

Kaua‘i County’s pesticide and genetically engineered (GE) crop disclosure law is under legal attack from biotech corporations who claim that the law is not legally valid and are suing the county over its passage. Yesterday the embattled law and its supporters received some legal assistance of their own, however, when national non-profits the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice led a coalition of Kaua‘i community members and public interest groups in filing papers in district court in Honolulu, moving to intervene as defendants on behalf of the county and its law.

“The Center for Food Safety stands with the people of Kaua‘i, and will protect this legally sound and important law from the pesticide industry’s attacks,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety.

“The spectacle of four multibillion-dollar multinational chemical companies suing for the right to continue spraying Kaua‘i’s residents with acutely toxic chemicals, and to keep what they spray and when they spray it a secret, is shameful,” added Earthjustice managing attorney Paul Achitoff. “Our clients deserve protection, and we will see that they get it.”

The coalition of intervening groups includes Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), the Surfrider Foundation and a citizen group of directly affected Kaua‘i residents calling themselves Ka Makani Ho‘opono, or “The Wind That Makes Right.”

“We’re joining with the people of Kaua‘i and standing up to bullying by three of the world’s largest pesticide corporations,” said Paul Towers, organizing and media director at PANNA, which claims some 1300 members in Kaua‘i County alone. “Kaua‘i has become the testing grounds for the genetically engineered seeds and pesticides of a handful of corporations. These powerful interests hope to keep residents in the dark about what‘s being applied next door to the places where children live, learn and play.”

Ordinance 960 (formerly Bill 2491) requires the full disclosure of pesticides and GE crops used on the island of Kaua‘i and establishes buffer zones around sensitive locations like schools and hospitals. This law primarily affects companies Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. (owned by DuPont), Agrigenetics, Inc. (owned by Dow Chemical) and BASF Plant Science LP, which collectively farm some 12,000 acres on the island and account for most of the pesticide use there.

“I greatly appreciate Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety stepping up to defend our community and am hopeful that the court will grant intervenor status,” said Kaua‘i County councilman Gary Hooser. “It is unfortunate and disappointing that the County itself has not been more aggressive in taking action.”

The Kaua‘i County Council voted to enact the law in November of 2013, overriding Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s veto. In January 2014, Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Agrigenetics, Inc. and BASF Plant Science LP filed to sue the County. Before the intervention of Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety, the county had not retained counsel to defend itself (six weeks later), largely because the Council, mayor and the County Attorney disagree over the law’s advisability.

Image: Kaua‘i community members marched on the mayor’s office in Lihue to show support for then Bill 2491 a month before Mayor Carvalho’s veto.

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