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Pacific Northwest
Hawai'i CFS

Federal Court Rules that State Law Preempts Kaua'i's Pesticide & GE Crop Disclosure Law

August 25, 2014
Center for Food Safety

Community Groups remain committed to protecting people of Kauaʻi

United States Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren today ruled that Kaua‘i County Ordinance 960 is preempted by state law and therefore is unenforceable.

The law received widespread support on the Island, and was designed to protect local residents and Kaua‘i’s environment from the year-round spraying of large quantities of restricted use pesticides by multinational chemical companies after state agencies failed to provide any meaningful assistance.  It required large agricultural operations to disclose the type of pesticides they spray on their fields, and established buffer zones near sensitive areas, including schools, medical facilities, dwellings, parks, public roadways, shorelines and waterways.

The lawsuit against Kaua‘i County was brought by DuPont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Syngenta Seeds, Agrigenetics, Inc, (owned by Dow Chemical) and BASF Plant Sciences LP in the U.S. District Court in Hawai‘i. They argued, among other things, that that the county had no authority to regulate pesticides and genetically engineered seeds because state and federal laws did so already.  Four nonprofit organizations –  Ka Makani Ho‘opono, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America and  Surfrider Foundation – represented by Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety, were permitted to intervene as of right in the lawsuit against Kaua‘i County, and since have helped to defend the ordinance in legal filings.  

Magistrate Judge Kurren concluded that, although the Hawai‘i Pesticide Law does not contain any provisions that actually conflict with the Kaua‘i ordinance’s requirements, the state law’s broad scope implied that the Hawai‘i legislature intended that only the state government had the authority to regulate pesticide matters.  The court also ruled that federal laws do not preempt the ordinance, leaving open the possibility that the State could amend its laws to protect its residents without running afoul of federal law.

Public hearings on County Ordinance 960, originally Bill 2491, drew as many as 1,000 residents, with 227 testimonies in favor of the bill. Thousands of residents took to the streets to march in support of the measure. The City Council passed the bill 6-1 on Oct. 16, but Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr., then vetoed it. The City Council voted to override the veto.

The defendant-interveners are currently analyzing all legal options, including appeal.

Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said, “This battle to protect Kaua‘i’s residents from the effects of toxic pesticides is only just beginning.  We do not accept that people must put up with toxic chemicals being sprayed near their homes and schools, and will keep fighting for their right to protect themselves.”

”Center for Food Safety stands with the people of Kauai and we are extremely disappointed in this ruling. This is certainly not the end of this fight; we will continue to do everything we can,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety


Center for Food Safety is a national, nonprofit, membership organization founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture.  CFS maintains offices in Washington, D.C.; San Francisco, California; Portland, Oregon; Honolulu, Hawaii; and has half a million members across the country. More than 5,000 reside in Hawaii. More information can be found at

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law organization dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.

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