Kauai Official in Switzerland Urges Syngenta to Drop Lawsuit Blocking Enforcement of GMO Pesticide Law; Syngenta Replies, 'There Is No Lawsuit'

05/22/2015 03:53 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2016

At the annual shareholders meeting of the Syngenta Corporation in Basel, Switzerland, Kauai County Council member Gary Hooser urged the transnational chemical giant to withdraw from its lawsuit against the Hawaiian island county.

Syngenta in January 2014 joined with Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer and BASF in a federal suit to block the enforcement of controversial Kauai Ordinance 960, which regulates testing agrochemicals on GMO seed crops on the garden island.

Enacted in late 2013 by Kauai County Council in an override of the island mayor's veto, Ordinance 960 requires the GMO seed companies to disclose when and where and how much they spray toxic chemicals on their test crops. The law also requires a 500 foot buffer between the testing areas and local schools, hospital and homes.

The lawsuit by Syngenta and the other GMO seed companies on the island contends that the County of Kauai does not have the legal right to pass or enforce such regulation, arguing that state laws superseded the county ordinance.

Federal Magistrate Judge Barry M. Kurren in August 2014 ruled that Ordinance 960 was preempted by state law and therefore invalid. He enjoining the county from implementing or enforcing the law.

However, the County Council in September voted to appeal the ruling. Attorney David Minkin, a special counsel hired to defend the county in the case, said at the time that an appeal in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would take at least a year.

Other parties in the appeal are pro bono attorneys from EarthJustice and the Center for Food Safety, who represent the citizens of west side Kauai, where most of the GMO test crops are located.

Hooser spoke from the podium to the Syngenta Board of Directors and almost 1,000 shareholders in attendance. He noted in his brief talk that Syngenta tests on Kauai crops a range of highly toxic Restricted Use Pesticides (RUP's), including atrazine and paraquat, which the corporation is forbidden by Swiss law from using in their own country

"My message was clear and unambiguous," Hooser said. "I asked them to withdraw from their lawsuit against the County of Kauai, to honor and follow our laws, and to give our community the same respect and protections afforded to the people in their home country of Switzerland."

Hooser further presented a petition signed by more than 5,000 people asking the Board and shareholders of Syngenta to withdraw from their lawsuit against Kauai County. This petition subsequently was presented on May 7 Guy Morin, President of the Government of Basel.

Supported by the The Hawai'i Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA), Hooser led a small Kauai delegation to Switzerland at the invitation of Zurich-based MultiWatch, which has termed Hawaii as "ground zero of research and testing for genetically modified seeds, and the concomitant use of highly toxic, strictly limited pesticides."

Multiwatch owns one share of Syngenta stock, Hoover explained, which they assigned to him, giving the elected Kauai official a legal right to enter and speak at the shareholders meeting.

"To be clear," Hooser said, "Syngenta did not want me there and was working on many levels to prevent me from speaking, but legally there was nothing they could do to stop me."

He added, "My primary goal was to educate this international audience on the cultural and historical context of Syngenta's operations on Kauai, on the impacts of the industry's activities. I wanted them to know about the political and social efforts of the community to gain environmental and public health protections, like Ordinance 960 on Kauai and state bills like HB1514. I also spoke about similar battles and lawsuits underway on Maui and on the big island of Hawaii where Monsanto is fighting regulation."

Along with Hooser, the Kauai delegation included Hawaiian cultural educator Malia Kahale'inia Chun and environmental scientist Fern Rosenstiel, co-director of Ohana O Kauai (family of Kauai).

Hooser reported that when Rosenstiel was video recording his presentation, "she was approached by Syngenta security and told to put away her camera. She complied, but when they tried to take her camera, she refused to give it up and resumed filming as they escorted her from the hall."

He further alleged that Syngenta prevented the local television news station and a French film crew from taking camera's into the meeting.

While in Switzerland, the Kauai delegation met with local and national Swiss lawmakers. Hooser said the largest political party in Switzerland, the Social Democratic Party, issued a statement of support, asking Syngenta to "honor the democratic process and protect the people of Kauai."

The visit to Basel by the Kauai delegation also resulted in several articles in Swiss Newspapers, television news and Swiss Public Radio, Hooser said. "They were interested in covering Syngenta's activities in Hawaii and the Kauai residents' concerns."

Syngenta in Switzerland did not respond to an emailed inquiry about whether the company will withdraw from the lawsuit against the County of Kauai. The Syngenta USA corporate office was asked the same question.

"The U.S. District Court in Honolulu invalidated the ordinance and enjoined the County [of Kauai] from implementing or enforcing the law," said Paul Minehart, head of Syngenta corporate communications for North America, "According to our counsel, this ended the lawsuit, so there is no lawsuit from which to withdraw."

Asked about the defendant's ongoing 9th Circuit appeal of the Honolulu ruling, Minehart said, "Pending the outcome of the appellate process, we will determine any next steps."

Syngenta HQ in Basel

Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.

(Photo by Latschari, WikiCommons)