In 2013, the county of Kauai in the state of Hawaii did something pretty impressive. The residents banded together and passed legislation regulating the use of pesticides and genetically modified (GMO) crops on their island in what is now referred to as Bill 960. Five giant chemical companies– Syngenta, Monsanto, Dow, BASF and Pioneer/DuPont– were using an estimated 60,000 acres of land throughout Hawaii to test the pesticide resistance of GMO crops, and the residents were sick of it—literally.
By way of brief history, in early 2008, at Waimea Canyon Middle School, ten children were sent to the hospital emergency room with complaints of dizziness, headaches and nausea associated with a harsh odor coming from outside the school. Minutes before the students and teacher grew ill, Syngenta employees sprayed a 10-acre seed corn plot that lies only 300 feet from Waimea’s athletic fields. As outrageous as it may seem, this is but one example of a long series of events associated with pesticide spraying that have threatened the health and safety of Hawaii residents for many years. When official action never came, the residents started writing a blog to help record in greater detail the events that were affecting their children while at school. Complaints have since flooded in from across the islands describing chronic illness and damaged property.
Ordinance 960, originally known as Draft Bill 2491, simply sought to regulate the 3.5 tons of 22 different restricted-use pesticides that were being sprayed annually by the five Agrochem giants. The ordinance called for a 500-foot pesticide-free buffer zone around public areas and bodies of water as well as full disclosure of which pesticides were being applied, where they were being sprayed, and in what quantities.
While the ordinance seems totally reasonable, four of the chemical companies– Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, Agrigenetics Inc. and BASF– responded by suing Kauai County. Judge Barry Kurren ruled in the chemical companies’ favor last year after concluding that the ordinance was preempted.
In a clever attempt to appeal to the sensibilities of the companies, Gary Hooser, councilmember of the County of Kauai and the same individual who first introduced Ordinance 960, traveled to Basel, Switzerland (where Atrazine and other chemicals Syngenta uses are outlawed) to address the shareholders and board of directors of Syngenta AG at their annual meeting. He pleaded with the company to withdraw their lawsuit from the Hawaii courts as well as to respect the Ordinance that the County of Kauai had legally passed. Hooser’s eloquent speech was not included in the meeting minutes posted on the Syngenta’s website.