County by county, or island by island, Hawaii is regulating genetically modified crops like no other state. But Big Ag isn’t just laying down and taking it. In Kauai, these large agricultural corporations are coming together to sue that county for their GM crop restriction ordinance, set to go into effect on Aug. 16, 2014.
Corporations including Syngenta Seeds Inc., Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., Agrigenetics Inc., and Syngenta Hawaii LLC are hoping to get an injunction against the ordinance that would ban crops grown from genetically modified seeds or with certain common pesticides in “buffer areas”.
To say these companies are rich and powerful would be an understatement. Kauai, on the other hand, is not. There, the county council had to drum up $75,000 in order for the county attorney to find someone to defend them in the case. And depending on how long the debacle goes on, it might not be enough.
For their part, agribusinesses have hired several high-powered firms. They include one of the state’s most notable firms, Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, one of the largest in the Western U.S., Holland and Hart, and finally a firm led by former Hawaii Attorney General Margery S. Bronster.
Big Ag argues the county doesn’t have the authority to control GM seeds and pesticides like they are trying to do, according to Food Safety News. Also, they say the county “overstepped its bounds by requiring public disclosure of confidential commercial information likely to expose property owners to ‘risks of corporate espionage, vandalism, and environmental terrorism.’”
The companies say they’ve enjoyed free reign in the state for years and can’t be forced to just up and leave “without good cause or just compensation.” And it’s pretty likely that the island of Kauai couldn’t afford the type of “just compensation” Big Ag would require.
Kauai isn’t the only island gearing up for a fight against GMOs; advocates for a GMO-free island in Maui have recently started a petition to suspend the production of GMOs. On the big island of Hawaii, Mayor Billy Kenoi recently signed a bill banning GMOs. In other words, these large corporations have their work cut out for them.
Hawaii’s battle against genetically-modified crops and the makers of them is unique because they have been a particularly attractive target for field trials and testing, simply because of the fertile soils and year-round growing season.
As is true for large lawsuits of this kind, it could be a while before we see any significant movement. For now, the island is gathering strength for the storm, getting support from Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety in their defense.