Little Kaua’i Hands Biotech a Big Defeat

Landmark island-wide ‘Right to Know’ bill passes council, moves on to Mayor’s desk.

Kaua’i Hands GMO and Biotech Industry a Big Defeat - ‘Right to Know’ Bill Passes Council

(M.Swiet Productions/Getty)

Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

Since the 1990s, there’s been trouble in Paradise. Biotech companies—including Monsanto, Dow, and Syngenta—have used the fragile Hawaiian ecosystem on the island of Kaua’i to test and refine their pesticides, herbicides, and other agrichemical products. Some of these testing fields, 15,000 acres in total, are near schools, homes, hospitals and waterways, putting many residents on the tiny island at risk of exposure.

Following the landmark passage of a bill by the Kaua’i County Council this week, Kaua’i residents are one step closer to greater peace of mind. A new law passed Wednesday would require the largest biotech companies to report and publicly disclose the pesticides and genetically engineered crops used on the island, and would prohibit all pesticide use near schools, medical facilities, parks and waterways that flow into the ocean. Kaua’i County would also be required to study and report on the environmental and health impacts of pesticides and GE crops.

Measure 2491, which passed the Council in a 6-1 vote, and now must be signed by Kaua’i’s mayor, Bernard Carvahlo, is seen as an enormous victory for anti-GMO activists and Hawaii residents alike.

“The people of Kaua‘i have been remarkable in their persistence in the face of corporate power. The County Council did the right thing by listening to the people and acting in their best interest rather than bowing to multinational corporations,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety, said in a statement.

The biotech industry has spent bundles fighting this outcome, and it likely will keep fighting until Kaua’i’s mayor either signs or vetoes the bill. Carvahlo, who by law must decide on the bill within 10 days, was denied a request to extend that deliberation period to a month. He says a veto is not being considered at this point.

“I would like to look at the bill and see how we can really work it out, but my final decision will only be after I look at the final draft and I get the county attorney's opinion," Mayor Carvalho told Hawaii News Now.

Residents of the blue-collar community of Waimea, who live across the Waimea River from 1,000 acres of Pioneer research test fields, recently filed a lawsuit against the company, a subsidiary of Dupont. Families report pesticide-laden dust accumulating on windows, seeping into homes, and even settling on kitchen appliances, putting them at risk of untold health problems. Not surprisingly, Pioneer and others maintain their activities are completely safe, and claimed the bill is effectively an excuse to kick biotech companies off the island.

“We're disappointed. We recognize that the most onerous, anti-GMO provisions were removed from the bill, but we still maintain that the county really lacks the resources and the expertise for enforcement and administration of pesticide laws,” Alicia Maluafiti, Executive Director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, told Hawaii News Now.

Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety vowed to fight any further action by pro-GMO forces to have this and future bills struck down in the courts.

“Center for Food Safety will stand with the people of Kaua'i,” he said. “We are committed to working with allies on the island to defend the bill from any legal interference by the pesticide industry.”

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