Hawaii's GMO War Headed to Honolulu and Federal Court
The debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Hawaii is reaching a fever pitch. The battleground has shifted from packed local meetings to a federal court and the Legislature as powerful agrichemical interests push back against a grassroots movement that has succeeded in passing laws through two county councils. The question facing the island state that has become a cradle of GMO development: Do county governments - and the local communities they represent - have the power to regulate global chemical companies and the pesticide-laden process of developing genetically engineered seeds?
After months of massive marches and packed local meetings, two county governments in Hawaii took on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and the other agrichemical firms that take advantage of Hawaii's three growing seasons to develop GMO seed varieties sold across the world. In November, the county of Kauai passed a law regulating pesticide use at GMO test plots near residential communities. (Truthout reported from Kauai in November, check out our in-depth coveragehere and here.) In December, the island of Hawaii banned biotech companies from operating on the island and asked farmers not to plant any newly developed GMO seeds besides papaya.
On January 23, state lawmakers introduced legislation that would block county governments from restricting legal agricultural practices, a move that critics say is a clear effort to pre-empt the counties of Hawaii and Kauai and render their new GMO rules null and void. Anti-GMO activists have dubbed the bill the "Hawaii Monsanto Protection Act."
During the 2012 election cycle, Monsanto and two lobbyists that represent the company were among the top 15 donors to Sen. Clarence Nishihara, the bill's main sponsor in the state Senate, according to state records. During the same election year, Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, another sponsor in the Senate, received a combined $3,650 of donations from Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Dow Chemical and an additional $5,450 from Monsanto lobbyists and industry representatives.
In January 2014, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta and a subsidiary of Dow Chemical filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Kauai's new law, originally called Bill 2491 and now known as Ordinance 960. The law aims at protecting environmental and public health by requiring the three companies, along with the biotech firm BASF, to publically disclose information about pesticide sprays and establishing buffer zones near schools and hospitals.