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Kauai's Anti-GMO Regulation Challenged By Big-Ag Lawsuit

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SYNGENTA
Michael Mack, Chief Executive Officer of Swiss agrochemicals group Syngenta, addresses a press conference; London, February 7, 2008. | SHAUN CURRY via Getty Images

In November, Hawaii's Kauai County Council passed a groundbreaking GMO bill that limits biotech crop and pesticide use on the island of Kauai. The law is set to take effect in August, but three of the world's largest agrochemical companies are now suing to overturn it.

Dupont, Syngenta and Agrigentics Inc. filed the lawsuit in federal court, claiming that the Kauai law is unconstitutional.

The law requires large agrocultural companies to disclose pesticide use, report genetically engineered crops, and create buffer zones between pesticide-sprayed fields and public areas like schools, hospitals and homes.

"The ordinance is invalid," Paul Minehart, a spokesman for Syngenta, said. "It 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."

The three companies collectively lease 11,500 acres on the island of Kauai for test farms and research facilities. They grow a mix of biotech seed crops, including corn, soybeans, canola and rice, according to the lawsuit. Kauai's temperate climate gives the companies "the invaluable opportunity to triple or quadruple the pace of development of GM crops," and is "crucial" to the companies' success.

Kauai residents, who have long resisted biotech and big agricultural companies, put on an incredible show of activism in support of the new law. When Kauai Mayor Bernard P. Carvahlo cited concerns over the bill's legal standing and vetoed it two weeks after its passage, the local community was outraged. The bill eventually passed after county council members voted to override the veto.

Now, it seems like Kauai will have to fight an even harder battle against the big-ag companies. Councilman Gary Hooser, who co-introduced the bill, said the companies were trying to bully the residents of Kauai. "They chose to use their money and legal power to bully us in court," Hooser said. "These companies do not want our county to set a precedent that other communities are going to follow."

Hooser also warned that the companies are using the lawsuit to maintain a shroud of secrecy around their pesticide use. "We do not know and cannot properly research and evaluate these impacts because the companies will not tell us what chemicals they are using," he said. "Instead, they choose to ignore the decision of our local community and take us to court."

Various law firms have offered Kauai County pro-bono services to fight the legal challenges, and environmental lawyers are also providing pro-bono assistance, while not directly representing the county.

"You've got three very big corporations all ganging up to bring this lawsuit," said Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff. "If it costs them a little more money to beef up their security, rather than using secrecy, that's what they need to do," he said.

A scheduling conference for the lawsuit is set for April 14 in the U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

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