This online version corrects that Bill 2491 would not stop the commercial production of GMO crops, but rather place a temporary moratorium on the experimental use and commercial production of GMOs until the county has completed an environmental impact statement.
LIHUE — The Kauai County Council unanimously voted to move forward a bill that would allow the county to govern the use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms on the island.
During his closing remarks, Councilman Tim Bynum, who co-introduced Bill 2491 along with Councilman Gary Hooser, described the issue as “serious.”
“We’re talking about people’s lives, people’s livelihoods,” he said. “There are very sincere and passionate people on both sides.”
At 9:30 p.m. Wednesday — after roughly six hours of testimony from dozens of local residents and biotech company employees — the council approved the bill on first reading, sending it to a public hearing July 31.
A location for the hearing is not confirmed. Council Chair Jay Furfaro said he would be looking for a place able to accommodate a larger crowd. About 1,000 attended Wednesday’s meeting but only roughly 100 at a time were allowed in the council chambers.
During his eight years as a state senator (2002-2010), Hooser said he worked on many different and important issues.
“I think at the end of the day this will be the most important one that I’ve worked on, and maybe will work on,” he said. “It has tangible impacts to people’s lives and to our environment.”
The bill calls for Kauai’s largest agricultural corporations — namely DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, DOW AgroSciences, BASF and Kauai Coffee — to disclose the use of pesticides and the presence of GMO crops. It would also establish pesticide-free buffer zones around public areas and waterways, ban open-air testing of experimental crops and place a temporary moratorium on the commercial production of GMOs, until the county can conduct an environmental impact statement on the industry’s effects on Kauai.
Hooser believes the issue will never be resolved by the state Legislature, which is why he has chosen to fight it at the county level.
Since the demise of pineapple and sugarcane, the seed industry has helped diversify Hawaii’s economy and kept important ag lands in agricultural production by investing millions of dollars into failing infrastructure such as roads, buildings and irrigation.
Not only does this ensure that those farmlands remain productive for future generations, but the investment has saved small farmers and the state from having to pay for those improvements.
While we applaud the Sierra Club for turning its attention to food security (Name in the News, Star-Advertiser, Oct. 22), the comment by Robert Harris that farmers are having difficulty finding land to farm “because it’s all being used for seed corn” is a gross misstatement.
The agricultural biotech industry, which includes seed corn research companies, operates on only 5 percent of the available prime agricultural lands in the state. Of those acres, approximately 8,000 are actively used for crop production, which conserves water and results in a smaller environmental footprint.
Recognizing the difficulty of farmers to secure land, many seed companies now collaborate with farmers to put new and displaced farmers back on agricultural land at affordable prices. Farmers large and small are growing a variety of crops side by side, and many now even supplement their income by growing seed crops. In addition, seed companies lease land to cattle ranchers, who are another important part of Hawaii’s food security picture.