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Agribusinesses to challenge Kauai’s GMO law in federal court hearing

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A hearing will be held in U.S. District Court Wednesday in connection with a lawsuit against Kauai County filed by four seed companies seeking to block implementation of a new pesticides and GMO law. 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren will hear summary judgement oral arguments at the 2 p.m. hearing on the complaint concerning Bill 2491 (now Ordinance 960). The new law, set to take effect on Oct. 1, requires large agricultural operations to disclose the type of pesticides sprayed in fields and growth of genetically engineered crops. Companies must also establish buffer zones near schools, medical facilities, dwellings, parks, public roadways, shorelines and waterways. 

Syngenta Hawaii LLC, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Agrigenetics, Inc. doing business as Dow AgroSciences and BASF filed a joint complaint against the county, contending the ordinance is fatally flawed and invalid. They also claim the law is preempted by state and federal law and that it will increase risks of vandalism and misappropriation of trade secrets.

Representing the county in the lawsuit is Honolulu firm McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon. In February, the Kauai County Council approved the request of the Office of the County Attorney to spend up to $75,000 to retain special counsel. The county attorney’s office is seeking another $50,000 for the counsel’s continued services. The council will address the request at a meeting Wednesday. 

Four nonprofit organizations — Ka Makani Ho’opono, the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America and the Surfrider Foundation — have joined the lawsuit to defend the new law. Attorneys from the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice are representing the organizations. Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said, “Our position is that none of the plaintiffs’ claims have any legal basis.”

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