Above: Kauai residents with local Swiss and international activists outside the Syngenta shareholders meeting in Basel, Switzerland on April 28, 2015. | Fern Anuenue Rosenstiel
Today, April 28, Kauai County councilman Gary Hooser gave a speech addressed to shareholders of Syngenta Agrochemical Company at their headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. The speech was aimed at drawing attention to the fact that Syngenta operations on the island of Kauai involve heavy use of restricted pesticides that the Swiss have banned in their own country, as well as to the lawsuit Syngenta has filed against the County of Kauai over its Ordinance 960, a pesticide regulation law passed in 2013.
Hooser is part of a delegation that was invited by Swiss non-profit MultiWatch to come speak on April 24 and 25 to a European alliance of environmental organizations, trade unions and political parties tracking the activities and impacts of Swiss transnational corporations around the world. The delegation also held a meeting with local and national Swiss lawmakers, which resulted in the Social Democratic Party, the largest political party in Basel, issuing a statement of support for Kauai asking Syngenta to “honor the democratic process and protect the people of Kauai.”
These meetings have also resulted in several articles in Swiss newspapers covering Syngenta’s activities in Hawaii and the Kauai residents’ concerns.
“We came to share our story and to gain the support of members of government and the Swiss people, and we have done so. Political leaders have been appalled to hear our story, to know how hard we have fought, and to know that we even succeeded in passing government initiatives to obtain disclosure, buffers and studies—only to be sued by Syngenta,” said delegation member Fern Ānuenue Rosenstiel. “It has been an honor and an amazing experience engaging the people here, sharing our story, learning about theirs and gaining more inspiration about how we move forward as a collective worldwide community to better the health and life of our environment and world.”
Today, the delegation delivered a petition signed by more than 4,000 Kauai residents to Syngenta shareholders asking that the company respect Kauai’s laws and its people.
“The petition is very simple,” Hooser told the shareholders. “It asks Syngenta to honor the laws of our community; to withdraw your lawsuit from the courts of Hawaii; and to give us the same respect and the same protection that you give the people of Switzerland.”
Rosenstiel made a partial recording of the first part of Hooser’s speech, until she was forcibly removed from the auditorium by Syngenta security guards. Security attempted to take away Rosenstiel’s camera, which was caught on film by international camera crews. Her partial video is available below, and includes footage of security asking her to stop recording and leave the building.
As she was being escorted out of the building, Rosenstiel was rushed by Swiss and French reporters covering the shareholder meeting and Kauai delegation. Rosenstiel was able to give interviews to the press, but not before a male Syngenta security guard attempted to physically cover her mouth with his hand.
“This was outside after I had been removed and was standing with media talking to someone that came out,” Rosenstiel told the Independent. “First he said ‘shhhhh,’ and then I kept talking and he reached for my face. I leaned my face back and said, ‘I dare you.’”
There were also protests outside the shareholders meeting by Swiss and international watchdog organizations who joined the Kauai residents in holding banners and wearing Hazmat suits. The actions garnered national news attention in Switzerland.
The delegation heads home today. “This was an excellent opportunity to bring the cultural, health and environmental impacts that these chemical corporations have in Hawaii to the international forefront,” said delegation member Mālia Chun of Kekaha, one of the towns in south-west Kauai where residents believe pesticide drift is adversely affecting their health.
Ordinance 960, currently under lawsuit from the agrochemical companies, requires these large scale Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP) sprayers to disclose publicly which chemicals they are spraying on their Kauai genetically modified organism (GMO) test fields. Advocates for the law say that this information is critical to the health and wellbeing of Kauai residents living on the south-west side of the island, where several health scares have been attributed to the pesticide drift coming off the GMO fields. It also creates mandatory buffer zones—areas in which no pesticides may be sprayed—to separate the test fields from homes, hospitals and schools.
The GMO-pesticide issue is not limited to Kauai, however. Syngenta joins chemical companies Monsanto, Dow, BASF and Pioneer/DuPont in using the Hawaiian islands collectively as an outdoor laboratory for GMO crop pesticide resistance testing. GMO chemical test fields currently span an estimated 60,000 acres combined on Kauai, Maui, Oahu and Molokai but, across the islands, citizens are demanding change.
The world’s largest biotech trade group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), is currently suing Hawaii County to overturn Bill 113, which prohibits any new open air GMO crops on the island of Hawaii. Monsanto and Dow are both suing Maui County, as well as Kauai, to overturn a November, 2014 citizen vote which instituted a moratorium on GMO production and testing until third party health and environmental impact studies can prove that the operations on that island are causing no harm.
Besides serving on the Kauai County Council, Hooser is also president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA), which is a leading non-profit in the fight to regulate pesticides and GMOs in Hawaii. Sign the petition to Syngenta shareholders and Swiss lawmakers here.