Lawmakers on the tropical island of Kauai, Hawaii, on Wednesday approved a hotly contested measure aimed at reining in widespread pesticide use by companies testing new genetically modified crops on the island.
The Kauai County Council passed the bill by a vote of six to
one after months of protests by islanders and mainland US groups who wanted to
see a range of broad controls on the global agrichemical companies that have
found the island's tropical climate ideal for year-round testing of new biotech
The vote on Kauai came amid a global backlash against the spread
of genetically-modified organisms in food and feed (GMO). Critics claim they
contribute to greater pesticide use, environmental damage and health concerns
for people and animals. But the industry says they are crucial for increasing
global food production and improving environmental sustainability.
victory is an amazing credit to the people of Kauai who stood up to massive
pressure from the GMO companies and won their right to know about pesticides and
GMOs in their community," said Charles Margulis, a spokesman for the
California-based Center for Environmental Health, which supported the
Known as Hawaii's "Garden Isle," Kauai's landscape has become
fertile ground for testing of new crops by DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, BASF, and
Dow AgroSciences, which together have staked out work on an estimated 15,000
acres on the isolated Hawaiian island.
DuPont, which fought to defeat the
bill, was disappointed it passed, and may sue to block its implementation, said
spokesman Josh St. Peters.
"We believe it to be bad policy - and the kind
of regulation that should remain at the state and federal level, where policy
makers and agencies are already empowered with oversight of our industry," he
said. "We believe that the bill is not legally defensible and we continue to
evaluate all of our business and legal options."
Kauai is the fourth
largest of the main Hawaiian Islands and has a land area of 562.3 square miles
and a population of about 67,000.
Many on the island have blamed health
problems and pollution on what they say is excessive use of pesticides as the
companies test a range of genetically altered crops. In early September, more
than 3,000 islanders took to the streets of Lihue with signs and banners, and
chanting "Pass the Bill."
More than 80 people lined up to offer testimony
to the council meeting, which started on Tuesday morning but lasted until 3:30
a.m. local time on Wednesday. Only four people testified against the bill, the
rest asked for its passage.
Early versions of the measure introduced in
June prohibited open-air testing of experimental pesticides and genetically
modified crops, established a permitting process for the industry and placed a
temporary moratorium on the expansion of GMO crop test fields.
people in my community have asked for help," Kauai County Councilman Gary
Hooser, who introduced the bill, said on Tuesday. "People are
In an attempt to forge compromise last month, Hawaii Gov.
Neil Abercrombie proposed that pesticide and genetically engineered seed
corporations be allowed to voluntarily disclose pesticide use.
version of the bill that passed late Tuesday was stripped of some of its tougher
conditions and now requires the agricultural companies to disclose the presence
and use of genetically modified crops and pesticides; establishes buffer zones
around schools, hospitals, homes and other areas, and requires the county to
conduct a study on the health and environmental impacts of the
Concerns about pesticide use on the island have been mounting
in recent years and some allege health problems, including increased rates of
cancer, are tied to the farm chemicals on the experimental crop
But testifying at the hearing, BASF representative Kirby Kester
said that passage of the bill was unwarranted because there is no evidence the
companies are doing any harm.
And prior to the meeting, Mark Phillipson,
spokesman for Syngenta Hawaii, said the industry was committed to a safe
"We abide by high standards to create a safe environment for
our workers, our neighbors and the community," Phillipson said.
spokesman for Dow could not immediately be reached for comment.