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Residents of Kauai rallied in favor of a county ordinance that would create pesticide "buffer zones" and force disclosure of pesticide chemicals in September 2013. (Photo: Pesticides on Kauai)

Siding with GMO Giants, Federal Judge Rejects Kauai Anti-GMO Law

County ordinance meant to protect people and land from 'one of the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture'

Lauren McCauley

Siding with a coalition of GMO giants, a federal judge in Hawaii on Monday rejected a local effort to protect the health and environment of the island by blocking heavy pesticide use near homes and schools.

The Kauai County ordinance known as Bill 2491, which was passed in October, aimed to shield residents from the intensive pesticide spraying that had transformed parts of the island "into one of the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture," as Grist writer Paul Koberstein recently reported.

Despite strong public support behind the measure, Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren ruled that Bill 2491 is "pre-empted" by a state law which Kurren said is meant to broadly regulate all state pesticide matters. The suit was brought against the county by four multinational agriculture companies—DuPont, Syngenta, Agrigenetics Inc. (owned by Dow Chemical), and BASF Plant Sciences—which for decades have been dousing their GMO test crops on the island with some of the most toxic pesticides available at a rate higher than most farms in the nation, according to Koberstein's analysis of government pesticide databases.

The bill required that growers disclose the type of pesticides being sprayed on their fields and established "buffer zones" around sensitive areas, including schools, medical facilities, homes, parks, public roadways, shorelines and waterways. The legislation was designed to protect citizens "after state agencies failed to provide any meaningful assistance," according to the Center for Food safety which, along with environmental law group Earthjustice, represented the ordinance in legal filings.

Following the ruling, residents of Kauai and anti-GMO advocates slammed the ruling as a "blatancy of injustice."

“The chemical companies must be held accountable to our people and our land,” said Andrea Brower, a local organizer and Kaua'i native. “Movements for social justice, the environment and democracy are never straightforward and never easy, especially when they confront such powerful interests."

Locals are concerned that the ruling will have broad implications for other Hawaiian islands who have passed similar anti-GMO measures. According to Honolulu Civil Beat, attorneys are reviewing a recently passed ban on GMO crops on the Big Island as well as an upcoming ballot initiative to ban the crops on Maui.

Supporters of the Kaua'i County ordinance say that an appeal is likely. “This battle to protect Kauai’s residents from the effects of toxic pesticides is only just beginning," said Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff. "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.”

And Brower, using the local pidgin words for "earth" and "good/ moral," added: "People on Kauai are determined in their love for the ‘aina and one another, and committed to what is pono. That cannot be exterminated by a lawsuit. As the absurdity of injustice and the need for deep systemic change is revealed, movements only build in strength.”

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