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The People Win!

November 20th, 2013
By Sylvia Wu, Staff Attorney
Center for Food Safety

Kaua’i County Council Enacts GMO/Pesticide Law, Overturning Veto

Residents of the island of Kaua‘i scored a big victory on Saturday as the Kaua’i County Council acted on local demands to force some of the world’s largest chemical companies to disclose what they are doing on the island.

Kaua’i, also referred to as the Garden Isle, is known to tourists around the world for its breathtaking waterfalls, canyons, and famed beaches of the north shore. The island’s drier west and south sides, where farming has been the traditional way of life, today houses large test fields of genetically engineered crops that are doused with toxic chemicals. 

Residents concerned about protecting the natural beauty of the island, as well as an increasing rate of dramatic health problems, spurred the County Council to act. Many were particularly troubled after pesticides drifted off a factory farm and onto a school, sickening a teacher and her students.

The County Council heard the people and passed Bill 2491, which required commercial agricultural entities such as Dow Chemical, DuPont Pioneer, BASF and Syngenta to disclose the toxic chemicals they spray, and established pesticide buffer zones around sensitive areas, including schools, medical facilities, nursing homes, public parks, and waterways.  Bill 2491 also required all commercial agricultural entities to disclose the locations and types of genetically engineered crops being grown on the island.  Unfortunately, Mayor Bernard Carvalho vetoed the bill weeks later, siding with the interests of agrichemical businesses and relying on their erroneous legal argument that the measures proposed in Bill 2491 were preempted by federal and Hawai’i’s state laws.  

On Saturday, the County Council looked at all the available information and voted to override the Mayor’s veto. The concerns of the people meant more than the legal threats of the major chemical manufacturers.

As a result of the vote to override the veto, the Bill is enacted into law, and will go into effect in August 2014.     

The override was no easy feat.  People camped out overnight outside the County Council Building before various hearings on the Bill, and hundreds testified in front of the County Council, including Center for Food Safety.  After numerous public debates, protests, and rallies on the island over the past months, as well as several long days of emotional testimony, the Kaua’i County Council finally secured the supermajority five votes necessary to override the mayoral veto. The Council delayed the vote one day in order to fill an empty seat to make sure the full will of the people was represented. The final vote was 5-2. 

While we savor this victory of people over pesticides, it is clear that the fight to restore the health and beauty of the Garden Isle is not over.  The agrichemical companies have already stated that they will challenge the bill’s legality in court.  In response, Center for Food Safety, along with the environmental group Earthjustice, has promised to represent the residents of Kaua’i and defend the bill’s legality on a pro bono basis.  We are confident that the victory achieved by the County Council vote can and will be maintained in a courtroom, and together we will protect this beautiful land and its people from chemical assault.   

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