In Hawaii, Who Has the Authority to Regulate GMOs and Pesticide Use?

Biotech companies seek to invalidate Kauai County ordinance regulating pesticide spraying and requiring disclosure of genetically engineered crops

July 23, 2014 | Source: Civil Beat | by Anita Hofschneider

For related articles and information, please visit OCA’s Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Hawaii News page.

The question of whether or not counties have the authority to regulate pesticide use and genetically engineered crops was at the center of a federal court hearing on Wednesday challenging Kauai County’s new ordinance imposing buffer zones and disclosure requirements on biotechnology firms.

Global seed companies Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Agrigenetics and BASF are seeking a permanent injunction against Kauai Ordinance 960, which prohibits pesticide spraying near schools and hospitals; requires disclosure of restricted pesticide use about certain levels; and mandates disclosure of the cultivation of genetically engineered seeds.

The decision, which Judge Barry Kurren said he hopes to issue before the ordinance goes into effect next month, could have implications for other counties in the state that want stricter laws regulating biotechnology in agriculture. Hawaii County passed a partial ban on genetically modified farming last year, and Maui County is considering a voter initiative this fall that would impose a temporary moratorium on genetically engineered crops.

Supporters of Kauai’s ordinance, including several residents from Kauai, crowded the courtroom on Wednesday, some standing or sitting on the floor because the seats were filled. Among the attendees were Kauai Councilman Tim Bynum and Councilman Gary Hooser who originally introduced the ordinance.

Prior to Wednesday’s hearing, Kurren asked attorneys to focus their arguments on whether or not the county ordinance preempts existing state or federal law.

Margery Bronster, former state attorney general and attorney for the plaintiffs, questioned the authority of Kauai County to pass the law, pointing to existing state and federal regulations on pesticide use.

She also said the ordinance unfairly targets the biotechnology industry, and argued that the county has the burden to prove that it has the authority to regulate pesticide spraying.

Conversely, county lawyers said that it’s the responsibility of the plaintiffs to show that Ordinance 960 defies state law.