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Our Legal Work

In the course of just one year, the chemical industry and local trade organizations have filed federal lawsuits against 3 of the state’s 4 counties (Kauai, Hawaii and Maui) for passing county-level ordinances regulating GE crops and pesticides.

These lawsuits directly threaten county home rule authority, or the rights of counties to pass local ordinances that protect the health and safety of their residents. CFS has been and will continue to be proactively involved in the ongoing litigation of these ordinances, and will provide its expert services pro bono.

Since opening the Hawaii office, CFS in partnership with Earthjustice has filed motions to intervene in each of the lawsuits, filed briefings with the court, participated in oral arguments and is currently preparing to appeal the court’s invalidation of the Kauai and Hawaii County Ordinances.

In an unprecedented accomplishment for our legal team, CFS will serve as official legal counsel for a county or government entity for the first time in legal proceedings, as it represents Hawaii County to appeal the lower court’s ruling before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Read more about our legal work in our Hawaii Center for Food Safety 2015 Annual Program Report.


Big Island Dairy Litigation

Community groups Kupale Ookala and Center for Food Safety sued the Idaho‑based dairy company Big Island Dairy, LLC, owned by Steven and Derek Whitesides, this Wednesday, June 28, 2017, for violating the federal Clean Water Act by continuously discharging animal urine and feces into streams and ocean waters in and around the community of Ookala, HI. The complaint alleges that Big Island Dairy’s improper manure applications and storage practices have caused, and continue to cause, discharges of animal waste and pollutants into streams flowing into the Pacific Ocean.

Big Island Dairy, a large concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), confines nearly 2,600 cows uphill from the town of Ookala, northwest of Hilo, at the base of Mauna Kea. The dairy is supposed to store and use all of its animal urine and feces onsite, including holding it in open-air waste lagoons and spraying the manure wastewater as liquid manure on its crop fields. However, residents of Ookala have witnessed brown murky water smelling of animal feces, tested to contain high levels of dangerous bacteria, flowing from the dairy into local waterways, and ultimately into the Pacific Ocean. They have also observed the dairy spraying liquid manure on its crops during high wind days, or immediately before or during rainfall, leading to increased runoff and pollution drift. Under the Clean Water Act, any discharge from Big Island Dairy is a violation of state and federal water pollution laws.

Read more about the Big Island Dairy litigation >>

Kauai Disclosure & Bufferzone Ordinance Litigation

What does the ordinance do?

The Ordinance required notification and disclosure of pesticide use to help residents avoid pesticide drift and to ensure better medical treatment to those exposed to pesticides, and creates buffer zones around sensitive locations, including schools, hospitals and waterways.  The Ordinance also required annual reporting, in general terms, of the type and location of genetically engineered crops being grown in the county.  Finally, the Ordinance required—and still requires—the completion of an Environmental and Public Health Impact Study (EPHIS) by the County assessing the numerous environmental and public health impacts of pesticide use and genetically engineered crop cultivation.

Why is it important?

Because of the significant environmental, human health, socioeconomic risks associated with the commercial cultivation and testing of genetically engineered (GE) crops. The cultivation and testing of GE crops relies heavily on the input of toxic pesticides and other chemical inputs that have been linked to environmental contamination and negative human health harms. The cultivation and testing of GE crops may also injure the crops of nearby small family farmers. The residents of Kaua‘i have a right to know when and where pesticides are being used and GE crops are being planted. A pesticide-free buffer zone between sensitive areas is also essential to reduce the impact of pesticide drift.

What’s the current status of the Ordinance?

The majority of the Ordinance was struck down by the federal district court’s ruling in this litigation (which is currently under appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals). The part of the Ordinance requiring that the County prepare an EPHIS was not addressed by the litigation, and in turn the County has partnered with the State Department of Agriculture to conduct a joint fact finding process to support collective fact-finding and evidence-based debate about the health and environmental impacts of pesticides.

Hawai‘i Island GE Ban Ordinance Litigation

What does the ordinance do?

The Ordinance bans any open-air testing and cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops on the Hawai’i Island, with an exception grandfathering the existing and widespread growth of GE papaya.  The Ordinance also required registration of any indoor testing of GE crops as well as testing of GE papaya (indoor or outdoor).

Why is it important?

Because of the significant environmental, human health, socioeconomic risks associated with the commercial cultivation and testing of GE crops. The cultivation and testing of GE crops relies heavily on the input of toxic pesticides and other chemical inputs that have been linked to environmental contamination and negative human health harms. The cultivation and testing of GE crops may also injure the crops of nearby small family farmers. 

What’s the current status of the Ordinance?

The Ordinance was struck down by the federal district court’s ruling in this litigation (which is currently under appeal before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals).

Maui Moratorium Litigation

What does the moratorium do?
When enforced, the initiative “A Bill Placing a Moratorium on the Cultivation of Genetically Engineered Organisms” will place a temporary moratorium (pause) on the planting, cultivation, and testing of Genetically Engineered (GE) Organism.

Why is it important?
Because of the significant environmental, human health, socioeconomic risks associated with the commercial cultivation and testing of GE crops. The cultivation and testing of GE crops relies heavily on the input of toxic pesticides and other chemical inputs that have been linked to environmental contamination and negative human health harms. The cultivation and testing of GE crops may also injure the crops of nearby small family farmers. The County has not done the assessment to ascertain if living next to fields will permanently damage our agricultural systems or our bodies. We just want the science to be conducted demonstrating that we and our future generations won’t be harmed.

Is it permanent?
The moratorium can be lifted once an Environmental and Public Health Impacts Study (EPHIS) is completed proving that the testing and cultivation of GE organisms will benefit Maui and not harm our residents and resources. Once this study is completed, the moratorium can be lifted upon the approval of two-thirds of the County Council.

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