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Kauai Council considers override of mayor's veto of bill regulating pesticides, GMOs

By Rosemarie Bernardo

LAST UPDATED: 05:53 p.m. HST, Nov 14, 2013

LIHUE >> The Kauai County Council is meeting today to consider whether to override Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.'s veto of Bill 2491 which would require mandatory disclosure of pesticide use and farming of genetically modified crops by large agribusinesses. 

By 7:30 a.m., more than 100 people had lined up to attend the 9 a.m. hearing. More than 100 people also have signed up to testify.

Bill 2491 would impose mandatory disclosure of pesticide use and would prohibit the growth of crops near schools, dwellings, medical facilities, public roadways and waterways. The bill also would require agribusinesses to provide annual public reports on genetically modified crops grown on fields to the county Office of Economic Development and state Department of Agriculture. 

Companies affected by the bill are Syngeta, DuPont Pioneer, BASF and Dow AgroSciences as well as Kauai Coffee, the largest coffee grower in the state.

The Council voted 6-1 to approve the measure on Oct. 16. Carvalho vetoed the bill on Oct. 31, saying he supported the intent but that he had legal concerns. In a letter to the Council, he said the state and federal government pre-empts the county from enacting laws on regulating pesticides and GMOs. 

Bill supporters and some councilmembers, who advocated for disclosure by biotech companies to protect public health and the island's environment, were outraged by the mayor's decision. Representatives of biotech companies have said the mayor recognized the bill was legally flawed and would put the county at risk.

Carvalho has supported a state-created voluntary compliance program for disclosure and buffer zones. 

The Agriculture Department released details Wednesday afternoon of guidelines for the Kauai Agricultural Good Neighbor Program, which was created by the Pesticides Branch and will take effect Dec. 1

The guidelines are similar to the disclosure and buffer zone provisions in Bill 2491.

Companies will provide a weekly schedule to schools, hospitals and medical clinics within 1,000 feet of the farming operations of any planned restricted-use pesticide application. Companies will also notify the site of any anticipated changes in the weekly schedule at least 24 hours in advance. 

The guidelines also include 100-foot buffer zones near schools, medical facilities and residential properties. Participating companies will also file a monthly report to the Pesticides Branch of the restricted use pesticides they sprayed on their fields. 

State agricultural officials plan to assess the program after one year.

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