KILAUEA, Hawaii — Genetic engineering of crops will likely continue to be a hot button issue in Hawaii as seed companies deal with a new disclosure law on the island of Kauai.
At least one of the companies is exploring legal options to block the new law, the “PBS Newshour” reported Dec. 30.
But a proponent of the law, an organic fruit and vegetable farmer in the small town of Kilauea on Kauai’s north shore, says she thinks the companies will comply with the law.
“There have been super good, pro bono attorneys look at this for the county and I don’t think the companies can win,” said Mary Norris, 63, who has raised lettuce, vegetables and fruits on 3.5 acres in Kilauea for 30 years.
The companies have nine months to comply, Norris said, and she thinks they will.
“Otherwise there will be more uproar, more marches and stronger bills,” she said.
The original bill was stronger but was watered down to pass, she said.
But Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. has said nine months won’t be enough time and that a first draft of rules will be done by the end of February.
Several thousand people marched in support of the bill before the Kauai County Council passed it Oct. 16. Carvalho vetoed it but the council overrode his veto in November.
Bill 2491, now Ordinance 960, requires large agricultural companies to disclose when and where they spray pesticides and restricts spraying to a certain distances from public areas. They also must disclose which genetically engineered crops they grow on Kauai.
Norris, an activist with the group called Stop Poisoning Paradise, is among those who believe pesticides the companies use are making people sick.
“I would love to see them ban GMO here and the poisons or at least do environmental impact studies on people, wildlife and fish,” she told Capital Press.
Norris sells produce at two farmers’ markets, a restaurant and health foods stores. In the summer and fall, she distributed information in favor of Bill 2491.
Mark Phillipson, general manager of Syngenta-Hawaii and president of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, a seed trade group representing Syngenta, BASF, Dow and Pioneer, said the companies carefully follow state and federal guidelines on pesticide use. He said no workers have gotten sick, that seed companies have developed genetically engineered plants to withstand drought and pests and that disclosure of practices inhibits competition.
“Syngenta is considering next steps including assessing what it will take to comply with the ordinance,” he told Capital Press.
The company follows strict regulations enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture and state of Hawaii and voluntarily follows the state Department of Agriculture’s Good Neighbor Program, Phillipson said.
Almost 90 percent of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified and the seed business in Hawaii is valued at more than $240 million a year, he said.