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Trial begins in Kauai residents’ suit over GMO farm dust

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  • Dennis Oda / Nov. 13

There are southwest Kauai residents who can’t enjoy simple things in their homes, such as just sitting on a couch to relax, without first wiping off dust that blows from nearby fields where genetically modified crops are tested, an attorney representing a group of them told a jury on Wednesday.

The group of Waimea residents are suing seed company DuPont Pioneer, saying the pesticide-laden dust not only affects their quality of life, it diminishes property values, harms the environment and is unhealthy.

A judge, however, granted a defense motion to exclude evidence or arguments regarding health and environmental issues. The motion argued that it’s a property-damage case and that plaintiffs haven’t said they suffered any injuries.

The lawsuit was first filed in state court in 2011, before Kauai and other Hawaii counties attempted to regulate genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, in response to citizen concerns. The lawsuit was later transferred to federal court in Honolulu.

Gay & Robinson Inc. and Robinson Family Partners, which have leased the fields east of Waimea to Pioneer since 1998, are also named as defendants.

Without using specific amounts, plaintiff attorney Patrick Kyle Smith said in opening statements that the jury should award the residents enough money to make up for the loss of enjoyment of their homes and repairs and to punish the company. "A responsible farmer protects the land," he said.

The case boils down to a dispute between neighbors, Clement Glynn, representing the defendants, said in his opening statement. "Do people have a right to farm in Hawaii or do neighbors have the right instead to say, ‘I want to stop you,’ " he said.

Waimea has been dusty for hundreds of years, Glynn said, eliciting soft sighs and groans from some people in the gallery. It’s known as the "red dust capital" and means "red water" in Hawaiian, he said.

Residents are expected to testify about how the dust has affected their lives. The first witness was Waimea resident Patsy Nitta, who said she has seen Pioneer tractors generating dust for many years.

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