Bio-tech on the ballot

Today, voters in both Maui County and Kauaʻi County face decisions that will impact the bio-tech industry and the chemical companies that dominate it.

Will Caron

On Maui, residents are deciding on whether to pass a moratorium on production of Genetically Modified Organisms until the county conducts a public health and environmental study of the industry’s impact there. The mayoral seat and seven of the nine county council seats are also up for vote. At least one of those council seats is being sought by an anti-GMO candidate: Elle Cochran, the current incumbent from West Maui.

On Kauaʻi, the mayoral seat and all seven council seats are up for vote, the result of which could have a large impact on the county’s attitude toward the chemical companies there. Last year the council passed Ordinance 960, which regulates pesticide use and GMOs and creates buffer zones between the fields and nearby communities. Ordinance 960 applies only to the largest users of restricted-use pesticides—currently Dow, Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, BASF and Kaua‘i Coffee. The chemical companies quickly sued the county to have the law invalidated and on August 25, a circuit court judge ruled in favor of those companies.

The Kauaʻi council race includes candidates on opposite sides of the issue, with anti-GMO candidates like Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum (who co-authored 960) running against candidates like Arthur Brun, who is actually an employee of Syngenta.

Council members Mel Rapozo and Ross Kagawa, who voted against 960 last year, introduced a bill to repeal the law just days before today’s election.

The Garden Island reports that Kagawa had this to say about the bill he and Rapozo introduced: “For us, we’re saying, ‘We lost in court, so let’s stop the bleeding already—stop spending money on it. If we repeal it, we don’t need to spend any more money on the appeal. Basically, we have no confidence that the appeal is going to be any different than the first ruling.”

Outside counsel for the County, as well as pro-bono attorneys with Earth Justice and the Center for Food Safety, all believe that the first ruling was incorrect and that an appeal is a worthwhile endeavor.

Hooser called the move by Rapozo and Kagawa “an unfortunate example of political opportunism at the expense of our community.”

“I’m struggling to understand why Rapozo and Kagawa are totally discounting the threats to human health, and showing such indifference towards families living near chemical company fields,” said resident and environmental health advocate Fern Rosenstiel. “We have ever more information showing the dangers of what the chemical companies do. From the sheer volume of pesticides being used, to Big Bubble masking agent, to Chlorpyrifos blowing in the air through Waimea, there is more reason than ever to pay attention to the impacts on our communities and environment.”

Since the passage of Ordinance 960, research has mounted on the adverse health and environmental impacts of pesticides that are being used in large amounts by the chemical companies on Kaua‘i.

Kaua‘i Attorney Elif Beall said, “The State failed again and again to take any action on pesticide concerns—including during this past legislative session. To abandon protections at the County level is to abandon looking out for our local residents’ health and safety.”

“We should be working with aloha even where there is disagreement, and it is unfortunate that my fellow council members are creating more emotional division within our council and island community,” said Hooser.

Aria Castillo, leader of the Kaua‘i Young Democrats, said that she “hopes voters turn out in large numbers [today] to show their support for a council that is more willing to work together in the best interests of all of Kaua‘i’s people.”

Castiilo noted the reports of chemical companies spending over $8 million to influence the Maui County moratorium, and expressed concern about their efforts to overshadow the voices of Kaua‘i’s residents and voters as well.

Rapozo and Kagawa’s Bill #2562 to repeal Ordinance 960 is on the Council’s November 5 agenda. The public is encouraged to attend.