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Kauai County Council to consider diluted bill pertaining to pesticide, GMO rules


A hotly debated proposed ordinance pertaining to pesticide use and farming of genetically modified crops on the Garden Isle will be considered by the Kauai County Council next week.

Since its introduction in June, the Bill 2491 has touched off emotionally charged public hearing sessions, an anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) march that attracted thousands of supporters, as well as sign-waving and other efforts staged by sizeable crowds of opponents.

At the end of 12-hour meeting held by the county’s Economic Development (Agriculture) Committee on Friday, a diluted version of bill was approved. It will be considered at a meeting set for 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday in the council’s chambers at the historic county building in Lihue. 

The committee voted 4-1 in favor of the amended bill, which targets the county’s heaviest pesticide users. It calls for the following regulations:  

>>  Mandatory disclosures about pesticide use and the presence of GMOs. The bill’s new version calls for users to submit weekly reports detailing information ranging from active ingredients to wind speed.

>> Posting of signage in areas near pesticide application sites, as well as notifying property owners within 1,500 feet of operations with pre-application "Good Neighbor" courtesy notices.

>> A 500-foot buffer zone around schools, hospitals and homes. The amended bill shortens the zone to 100 feet in other potentially sensitive areas, such as parks, public roadways, streams, rivers and shorelines.

>> A county "environmental and public health impact study" addressing environmental and public health questions tied to large-scale commercial agriculture entities using pesticides and GMOs. The amended bill scraps a proposed moratorium on new GMO operations pending results of an environmental impact statement — prepared by Kauai County — and development of a permitting system.

Most of the 10-page ordinance’s other provisions were deleted in amended bill, but could be reintroduced before the seven-member council.

Supporters of the bill contend it’s needed to safeguard public health and the island’s environment. Opponent have countered that regulations included in the bill’s first draft would significantly hamper agribusiness and farming industries operating on Kauai.

The regulations would apply only to large users of restricted-use pesticides or any amount of experimental pesticides, annually. That group includes seed companies Syngeta, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., BASF Corp. and Dow AgroSciences as well as Kauai Coffee, the largest coffee grower in Hawaii.

Currently, there is no law in place on Kauai that requires companies to disclose the amounts of toxic chemicals they use daily. Hooser has said he wants to change that to ease concerns about human health and vitality of the island’s land. 

Seed companies and others have countered that their operations are monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration.

Councilman Mel Rapozo, who cast the only dissenting vote at Friday’s committee meeting, said while he backs provisions linked to disclosure and buffer zones he questions whether the proposal oversteps the county’s authority.  

Rapozo suggested that the county address pesticide and GMO matters in tandem with the state. 

Last week, Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced that state will create standards and guidelines for seed companies to voluntarily disclose the types of restricted pesticides they use and will set up buffer zones near schools and hospitals. 

Also, earlier this year, Abercrombie signed Act 105, which requires the state Department of Agriculture to post certain information regarding restricted-use pesticides on its website.

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