Several biotech/pesticide companies kept their word by filing a lawsuit on Friday against the County of Kauai to block implementation of the recently passed pesticide disclosure bill (now Ordinance 960). This news is very disappointing, but not entirely surprising, as the industry shows where its real priorities lie – certainly not with public health.
FIC has been following this issue closely and continues to support local efforts to hold the pesticide industry accountable. We recently submitted several information requests to determine whether biotech companies exerted improper influence over Hawaii state and Kauai County officials while the legislation was being debated.
In addition to requiring companies to disclose pesticide use information, Ordinance 960 also establishes buffer zones for pesticide spraying around public spaces such as schools and hospitals. It also instructs the county to complete a health and environmental impact study. It is set to take effect in August 2014.
The entities that filed the lawsuit are three of the world’s largest biotech companies: Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer and Agrigenetics (a Dow Chemical subsidiary).
Supporters of the ordinance released a statement criticizing the “shameful” lawsuit. From the statement:
The chemical companies currently use pesticides that are banned in many other countries, in the open air, next to schools and homes. Documents revealed in another lawsuit show that these experimental operations spray restricted-use pesticides 250- 300 days a year, 10-16 times per day.
In several incidents, students at Waimea Canyon Middle School fell sick after Syngenta pesticide spray drifted into the school yard. Director of the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association Tom Perry recounted the incident in public testimony: “There were ambulances where students were getting sick in large numbers along with the teachers. They sent the kids to the hospital… We couldn’t find any way to stop the spraying… we had to file, for the first time in the history of HSTA, a temporary restraining order.”
In the lawsuit filed by the chemical companies, they acknowledge that they “chose Kauaʻi because its climate is uniquely conducive to [our business] of developing innovative GM products for sale on the mainland and internationally.” Residents expressed frustration that while they admit the benefits they reap from doing business on Kauaʻi, they have been unwilling to address the grave concerns of doctors and nurses, environmental scientists, teachers and parents over the constant use of a laundry list of pesticides.
George Kimbrell, Senior Attorney with the Center for Food Safety, said “Kauaʻi’s ordinance is a sound and well-crafted law. The industry’s challenge is without merit, and we will vigorously defend it.”
Shame on Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer and Agrigenetics for disregarding the health concerns of Kauai residents. Their outright opposition to transparency and public health efforts is unacceptable. Let’s hope this lawsuit falls flat.
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.