Hawaii Takes GMO Fight to Switzerland

     KAUAI, Hawaii (CN) – A Hawaiian official has returned from Switzerland, where he asked Syngenta shareholders to urge the chemical giant to withdraw from its lawsuit against his county’s regulation of genetically engineered crops.
     Syngenta joined with Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer and BASF in a January 2014 federal lawsuit seeking to block enforcement of Kauai Ordinance 960 (formerly Bill 2491), which regulates testing of agrochemicals on GMO seed crops on Kauai.
     Enacted in late 2013 by Kauai County Council in an override of the island mayor’s veto, Ordinance 960 requires the GMO seed companies to disclose when, where and how much chemicals they spray on their test crops.
     The law also requires a 500-foot buffer between testing areas and schools, hospital and homes.
     Syngenta and the other agri-giants claim that Kauai does not have the legal right to pass or enforce such regulation, and that state laws supersede the county ordinance.
     Federal Magistrate Judge Barry M. Kurren in August 2014 found that state law preempted Ordinance 960, and enjoined the county from enforcing it.
     The Kauai County Council voted the next month to appeal the ruling.
     David Minkin, a special counsel hired to defend the county, said at the time that an appeal to the 9th Circuit would take at least a year.
     Other parties in the appeal are pro bono attorneys from EarthJustice and the Center for Food Safety, who represent citizens of Kauai.
     In Basel, Hooser told the Syngenta Board of Directors and almost 1,000 shareholders that Syngenta tests several highly toxic restricted-use pesticides on Kauai crops, including atrazine and paraquat, which Syngenta is forbidden from using in its own country, Switzerland.
     “My message was clear and unambiguous,” Hooser said. “I asked them to withdraw from their lawsuit against the County of Kauai, to honor and follow our laws, and to give our community the same respect and protections afforded to the people in their home country of Switzerland.”
     Hooser presented a petition signed by more than 5,000 people asking the board and shareholders to withdraw the lawsuit.
     Hooser and a small Kauai delegation went to Switzerland at the invitation of Zurich-based MultiWatch, which calls Hawaii “ground zero of research and testing for genetically modified (GMO) seeds, and the concomitant use of highly toxic, strictly limited pesticides.”
     MultiWatch owns one share of Syngenta stock, which they assigned to Hooser, giving the elected official the right to speak at the shareholders meeting.
     “To be clear,” Hooser said, “Syngenta did not want me there and was working on many levels to prevent me from speaking, but legally there was nothing they could do to stop me.”
     He added: “My primary goal was to educate this international audience on the cultural and historical context of Syngenta’s operations on Kauai, on the impacts of the industry’s activities. I wanted them to know about the political and social efforts of the Hawaiian community to gain environmental and public health protections, like Ordinance 960 on Kauai and state bills like HB 1514. I also spoke about similar battles and lawsuits under way on Maui and on the big island of Hawaii, where Monsanto is fighting regulation.”
     The Kauai delegation also met with local and national Swiss lawmakers. Hooser said the largest political party in Switzerland, the Social Democrats, issued a statement of support, asking Syngenta to “honor the democratic process and protect the people of Kauai.”
     Paul Minehart, head of Syngenta corporate communications for North America, said: “The U.S. District Court in Honolulu invalidated the ordinance and enjoined the County from implementing or enforcing the law. According to our counsel, this ended the lawsuit, so there is no lawsuit from which to withdraw.”
     Asked about the defendant’s 9th Circuit appeal of the Honolulu ruling, Minehart said, “Pending the outcome of the appellate process, we will determine any next steps.”
     The story was updated on 5/22/2015 to include Syngenta’s comments.

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