As expected, targeted companies on Kauai have filed a lawsuit in Hawaii to block a recently enacted law on the island of Kauai to limit planting of biotech crops and the use of pesticides.

As I wrote last September, Kauai County Ordinance 960 demands the local regulation of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) and pesticides even though these products are already heavily regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

The suit claims the action in Kauai is unconstitutional and seeks an injunction permanently barring enforcement of provisions of the law.

 

For more from Richard Cornett, see What happens if US loses California food production?

 

“The ordinance is invalid,” Paul Minehart, spokesman for Syngenta, said in subsequent press interviews. “It arbitrarily targets our industry with burdensome and baseless restrictions on farming operations by attempting to regulate activities over which counties in Hawaii have no jurisdiction. These activities are already regulated by governmental agencies under state and federal laws.”

The lawsuit was firmly defended by the Western Plant Health Association (WPHA), a trade group in Sacramento whose members will be directly impacted by the new ordinance when it is implemented in August.

“WPHA supports the decision of its members on Kauai to challenge the legality of Ordinance 960,” said CEO/President Renee Pinel.  “We believe the ordinance is discriminatory, establishing arbitrary standards that are without scientific or legal justification.  The ordinance targets selected farms and their use of crop protection products that are legally registered with both the state and federal government.”

The Kauai law requires large agricultural companies to disclose pesticide use and GMO crop plantings while establishing buffer zones around schools, homes and hospitals.

The use of pesticides and the research and growing of GMO test crops in Kauai has sparked considerable consternation among activists on the island who believe their health and environment is being damaged in the process.  Even though GMOs have been deemed safe by the world’s largest scientific and medical establishments, unfounded fear spread mainly by activists and special interest groups pursuing their own private agendas, has blanketed some of the islands.

A similar measure has been introduced on the island of Maui.  And in December, Hawaii Island (a.k.a. the Big Island) Mayor Billy Kenoi signed into law a measure that prohibits farmers from growing any new genetically modified crops on that island. (The Hawaiian island chain allows for valuable research on biotech crops due to a favorable year-round climate.) 

Lonely Quest for GM Facts

Considering this last item about the Big Island’s new law, one of the most complete and researched articles that I have read on the subject appeared on the front page of the New York Times in early January written by Times reporter Amy Harmon.

“A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops” details what happens when scientific issues are decided by votes.  The article follows the political and intellectual travails of Hawaii County (Big Island) council member Greggor Ilagan as he tried to navigate through the massive amounts of disinformation being tossed about in the campaign to ban modern biotech crop varieties from the island.

 

For more from Richard Cornett, see What happens if US loses California food production?

 

Harmon does a fantastic job of telling the story of how Ilagan sorted through claims of activists and counterclaims of scientists in reaching his lonely decision to vote against the ban. Here are some excerpts:

• But with the GMO bill, (Ilagan) often despaired of assembling the information he needed to definitively decide.  Every time he answered one question, it seemed, new ones arose. Popular opinion masqueraded convincingly as science, and the science itself was hard to grasp.  People who spoke as experts lacked credentials, and GMO critics discounted those with credentials as being pawns of biotechnology companies …

• “Just as many on the political right discount the broad scientific consensus that human activities contribute to global warming, many progressive advocacy groups disregard, reject or ignore the decades of scientific studies demonstrating the safety and wide-reaching benefits” of GMOs, Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at UC-Davis, wrote on the blog of the nonprofit Biology Fortified …

• Sensitive to the accusation that her bill (to ban GMOs) was anti-science, (council member) Ms. Wille had circulated material to support it. But in almost every case, Mr. Ilagan and his staff found evidence that seemed to undermine the claims…

• Mr. Ilagan discounted the correlations between the rise in childhood allergies and the consumption of GMOs, cited by Ms. Wille and others, after reading of the common mistake of confusing correlation for causation. (One graph, illustrating the weakness of conclusions based on correlation, charted the lockstep rise in organic food sales and autism diagnosis.)

• But Ms. Wille had largely dismissed the opinions of university researchers, citing Monsanto contributions to the university. In 2012, she noted, the company made a one-time donation of $600,000 for student scholarships at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, an amount that the college said represented only 1 percent of its annual budget that year. She did, however, rely on the opinion of a specialist in organic agriculture practice at the very same university – who supported the bill.

In October, the county council voted for the ban 6 to 3 and the bill, as mentioned, was signed by the mayor on Dec. 5.  Seems “science” is having a hard time gaining a solid foothold in this “Island Paradise,” despite the fact that genetic engineering saved its valuable papaya industry from the dreaded Ringspot Virus in the past. Oh how soon they forget.  Stay tuned for future developments.

 

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