Organizations in Hawaii are attempting to block efforts by biotech firms to roll back regulations on GMO crops.
In early August, a coalition of local farmers and environmental groups filed a motion in court to intervene in a lawsuit aimed at overturning a Hawaii County ordinance that imposes a moratorium on the expansion of genetically engineered crops on the Big Island.
On Aug. 1, the Center for Food Safety (CFS), along with three Hawaiian Island farmers, asked a court for permission to join as defendants in a biotech industry suit that is challenging the County of Hawaii’s Ordinance 13-121. The law regulates GMOs to prevent them from harming both the local environment and the economy, such as cross-contamination of organic and conventional crops, as well as wild plants, and the associated use of pesticides. The coalition is represented jointly by counsel from CFS and Earthjustice.
“Hawaii County, like every county, has the right to protect its farmers and native environments from genetically engineered crops,” said George Kimbrell, CFS senior attorney. “Having GE-free zones is critical for the sustainable future of U.S. agriculture, and to protect Hawai’i’s unique ecosystems.”
Chemical companies turning the islands into test beds for GMOs
According to eNews Park Forest:
The lawsuit, driven largely by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the world’s largest trade association for the biotech industry representing companies like Monsanto, seeks to dissolve the county’s 2013 ordinance to open the island up for the expansion of genetically engineered crop production. These herbicide resistant crops result in intensive pesticide use, which threatens public health, contaminates water, and harms wildlife and neighboring crops. Most GE crops also threaten transgenic contamination of non-GE crops, which has already caused several billion dollars in damage to growers.
“Hawai’i is one of the most biologically diverse, as well as spectacularly beautiful, places in the world, but the chemical companies have been turning the islands into experimental laboratories, unleashing a fountain of pesticides and genetically engineered material into the air, land and waters,” said Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice’s managing attorney based in Honolulu. “We stand with the people of Hawai’i Island who are trying to protect their island from being transformed into another toxic waste dump.”
Hawaii passed the ordinance in question in December 2013. It restricts any future growing of GMO crops in Hawaii County in order to protect local farmers from transgenic contamination and instead seeks to “preserve Hawai’i Island’s unique and vulnerable ecosystem while
promoting the cultural heritage of indigenous agricultural practices.”
However, the regulation does not apply to genetically engineered papayas, which existed on the Big Island before the ordinance was adopted.
Hawaii is the land of GMO experimentation
“In Hawaii we believe that our seeds, crops, and foods should remain free of contamination from genetically engineered plants,” said Big Island farmer and agricultural educator Nancy Redfeather.
“Ordinance 13-121 protects me and farmers like me. In Ordinance 13-121, the island/Hawai’i County Council properly acted to protect the life and the health of the lands and our communities, now and for future generations, and we cannot let these corporations take away those vital protections,” she added.
CFS and Earthjustice are also working to defend the Kauai County ordinance regulating pesticides and GMO crops from a legal challenge by the biotech industry.
GMO crops are grown very widely across most of the Hawaiian Islands. The climate there allows for growing three or more cycles of crops per year, and that is attractive to agricultural companies. But that also has meant that the islands have become a test bed, of sorts, for all kinds of experimental GMO crops and seed production.
Some of the islands’ land has been devoted exclusively to experimentation by some of the agri-giants like Monsanto and Syngenta. Other fields are then used to produce the commercial seed in quantity for export to other states, eNews Park Forest reported.
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