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3 companies sue to block Kauai’s new law on GMOs, pesticides

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    Kauai County Council member Gary Hooser

Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Agrigenetics — an affiliate of Dow — have sued to block Kauai County from implementing its new genetically modified organism and pesticide regulation law.

The law, which takes effect in August, imposes greater disclosure requirements on restricted use pesticides and creates buffer zones for crops near schools, homes, and hospitals.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, contends that the law irrationally prohibits the biotechnology companies from growing any crops — GMO or not — in arbitrarily drawn buffer zones, and restricts the companies’ pesticide use within the buffer zones.

The disclosure requirements, the lawsuit argues, expose the companies to risks of "corporate espionage, vandalism and environmental terrorism."

Proponents of the new law decried the lawsuit as "shameful."

"Kauai’s ordinance is a sound and well-crafted law. The industry’s challenge is without merit, and we will vigorously defend it," said George Kimbrell, senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety.

Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said, "The chemical industry has been using bullying and misinformation all along to try to derail this law. They consider their impacts on the health of Kauai’s residents as collateral damage."

But the biotech companies argue that the county law improperly intrudes into state and federal regulatory territory. The law, the companies allege, also violates federal and state constitutional rights to equal protection and due process by arbitrarily targeting the companies while exempting other pesticide users, including the county, and by imposing burdensome operational restrictions and penalties.

The Kauai County Council approved the law in November after voting to override Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s veto. The mayor had vetoed the bill after citing legal flaws raised by the county counsel.

Anti-GMO activists have celebrated the Kauai law — and a new law in Hawaii County that bans new GMO crops — as victories in a campaign against GMOs and pesticide use in the islands.

The biotech companies are represented by top Hawaii attorneys. Paul Alston is representing Syngenta; Margery Bronster, a former state attorney general, is representing Pioneer Hi-Bred and Agrigenetics.

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