Hawaii's Kauai Island moves to curb gene-altered crops, pesticide testing

Reuters

By Christopher D'Angelo

Lihue, Hawaii Oct 16 (Reuters) - Lawmakers on the tropicalisland of Kauai, Hawaii, on Wednesday approved a hotly contestedmeasure aimed at reining in widespread pesticide use bycompanies testing new genetically modified crops on the island.

The Kauai County Council passed the bill by a vote of six toone after months of protests by islanders and mainland U.S.groups who wanted to see a range of broad controls on the globalagrichemical companies that have found the island's tropicalclimate ideal for year-round testing of new biotech crops.

The vote on Kauai came amid a global backlash against thespread 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 globalfood production and improving environmental sustainability.

"This victory is an amazing credit to the people of Kauaiwho stood up to massive pressure from the GMO companies and wontheir right to know about pesticides and GMOs in theircommunity," said Charles Margulis, a spokesman for theCalifornia-based Center for Environmental Health, whichsupported the bill.

Known as Hawaii's "Garden Isle," Kauai's landscape hasbecome fertile ground for testing of new crops by DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, BASF, and DowAgroSciences, which together have staked out work on anestimated 15,000 acres on the isolated Hawaiian island.

DuPont, which fought to defeat the bill, was disappointed itpassed, and may sue to block its implementation, said spokesmanJosh St. Peters.

"We believe it to be bad policy - and the kind of regulationthat should remain at the state and federal level, where policymakers and agencies are already empowered with oversight of ourindustry," he said. "We believe that the bill is not legallydefensible and we continue to evaluate all of our business andlegal options."

Kauai is the fourth largest of the main Hawaiian Islands andhas a land area of 562.3 square miles and a population of about67,000.

Many on the island have blamed health problems and pollutionon what they say is excessive use of pesticides as the companiestest a range of genetically altered crops. In early September,more than 3,000 islanders took to the streets of Lihue withsigns and banners, and chanting "Pass the Bill."

More than 80 people lined up to offer testimony to thecouncil meeting, which started on Tuesday morning but lasteduntil 3:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday. Only four peopletestified against the bill, the rest asked for its passage.

Early versions of the measure introduced in June prohibitedopen-air testing of experimental pesticides and geneticallymodified crops, established a permitting process for theindustry and placed a temporary moratorium on the expansion ofGMO crop test fields.

"The people in my community have asked for help," KauaiCounty Councilman Gary Hooser, who introduced the bill, said onTuesday. "People are concerned."

In an attempt to forge compromise last month, Hawaii Gov.Neil Abercrombie proposed that pesticide and geneticallyengineered seed corporations be allowed to voluntarily disclosepesticide use.

The version of the bill that passed late Tuesday wasstripped of some of its tougher conditions and now requires theagricultural companies to disclose the presence and use ofgenetically modified crops and pesticides; establishes bufferzones around schools, hospitals, homes and other areas, andrequires the county to conduct a study on the health andenvironmental impacts of the industry.

Concerns about pesticide use on the island have beenmounting in recent years and some allege health problems,including increased rates of cancer, are tied to the farmchemicals on the experimental crop fields.

But testifying at the hearing, BASF representative KirbyKester said that passage of the bill was unwarranted becausethere is no evidence the companies are doing any harm.

And prior to the meeting, Mark Phillipson, spokesman forSyngenta Hawaii, said the industry was committed to a safeenvironment.

"We abide by high standards to create a safe environment forour workers, our neighbors and the community," Phillipson said.

A spokesman for Dow could not immediately be reached forcomment.

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