As was expected, Big Biotech’s legal juggernaut has rolled into action in Hawai’i. On Friday afternoon, three big agrochemical companies—Pioneer-DuPont, Syngenta and Agrigenetics Inc. (a subsidiary of Dow Chemical)—filed a suit in a federal court in Honolulu seeking to block Kaua’i County’s new genetically modified organism (GMO) regulatory law. Two other big agribusiness concerns on the island that will be affected by the law—Kaua’i Coffee and BASF—haven’t joined the suit.
The law, Ordinance 960 (formerly known as Bill 2491), was passed in November after surviving a veto by Kaua’i Mayor Barnard Carvalho. It requires agricultural companies and large farms to disclose the type and volume of pesticides they are spraying and the location of their genetically modified crop fields. It also requires the companies to set up buffer zones between fields growing GM crops and public places like schools, hospitals and parks. The law is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 16.
A similar regulatory bill was introduced on the island of Maui in December, just days after the mayor of Hawai’i Island, Billy Kenoi, signed into law a bill restricting biotech companies and farmers from growing any new genetically modified crops on that island.
Hawai‘i has turned into the latest battleground of the conflict over genetically modified crops. There’s been a growing grassroots opposition against the five big biotech companies—Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow Agrochemicals and BASF—that have been expanding their operations here, occupying tens of thousands of acres of former sugar and pineapple plantation lands to grow and test transgenic seeds. Hawai‘i currently has the largest number of experimental GMO crops in the U.S.
The lawsuit against Kauai is clearly the biotech industry’s first retaliatory salvo against the series of legal initiatives to to curb their activities on the islands.
The 84-page suit claims that the Kauai law was explicitly drafted “to discriminate against GM seed farming operations on Kaua’i” and that it violates their federal and state constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.
“Bill 2491 irrationally prohibits Plaintiffs from growing any crops, whether genetically modified or not, within arbitrarily drawn buffer zones inapplicable to other growers, and restricts Plaintiffs' pesticide use within those buffer zones,” the suit states. It says that if the companies are forced to reveal the location of their transgenic crop fields they will face the risk of “commercial espionage, vandalism and theft” and that all these “burdensome operational restrictions and civil and criminal penalties” have no legal justification and would hurt their businesses economically. It says the bill was “tailored to avoid impacting others who use pesticides on Kaua’i to grow non-GM crops and for other purposes.”
Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman told Reuters that the ordinance attempts to regulate activities over which counties in Hawaii have no jurisdiction. “These activities are already regulated by governmental agencies under state and federal laws," he said.
The biotech companies mainly grow seed crops on the island, including soybean, canola, rice and seed corn—which is Kaua’i’s number one crop. But they also have trial plots where they test genetically modified seeds for pesticide resistance. Hawaii’s warm climate allows for three corn crop harvests in a year, which makes it a perfect place to experiment with seeds. The companies say Kaua’i’s climate gives them the "the invaluable opportunity to triple or quadruple the pace of development of GM crops."
It’s this “triple or quadruple pace of development of GM crops” that has been of increasing concern to many islanders and what led to the passage of the bill in the first place.
Many residents, especially those living on the west side of the island where most of the biotech companies’ fields are located, are deeply concerned about the health and environmental impact of the large volumes of pesticides used these fields. Three-to-four crop harvests a year, they say, means a tripling or quadrupling of the amount of pesticide used—way over what’s used in fields, GMO or otherwise—on typical farms. Many local doctors and nurses, teachers and parents are especially worried that exposure to pesticides is harming children.
On several occasions between 2006 and 2008, students and teachers at Waimea Canyon Middle School, which is near a Syngenta field, complained of noxious odors. In one instance the school had to be evacuated and some children were sent to the hospital. Some doctors say the region seems to have unusually high rates of asthma, cancer and birth defects. However, there have been few studies investigating these allegations and the cause of the students’ ill health. (The lawsuit uses the lack of health impact studies to claim that Ordinance 960 is not “based on sound scientific data or a thorough risk assessment”).
Kaua’i Councilman Gary Hooser, who co-authored the bill, says it was drawn up because despite repeated requests from residents the companies either withheld information, or outright lied, about their agricultural practices.
“I expected it and I didn’t,” Hooser said on Saturday, referring to the lawsuit. “In a way, I expected them to honor the democratic process also. It should have been predictable given their history of being corporate thugs around the world, but I tend to optimistic.” He said a team of environmental lawyers, including attorneys from EarthJustice and Center for Food Safety, who’ve promised to fight the case for the council pro bono, “are confident that the law is defensible and solid.”
Paul Achitoff, a Honolulu-based attorney with EarthJustice, says the lawsuit’s arguments aren’t legally sound. “They have a very long list of complaints. Basically they’ve thrown everything up against the wall hoping something would stick,” he said. “Of course you never know, a judge might buy one of the arguments.”
On Saturday, some Kauaʻi residents expressed frustration that while the companies acknowledged the benefits of business on Kauaʻi, they have been unwilling to address people’s concerns.
“As a west side resident who is surrounded by the test fields of these companies, it is my basic human right to know what they are exposing me and my family to on a regular basis. Their actions prove that they do not value the health and well-being of our community, and are only interested in their corporate profit,” Malia Chun, a local educator and community activist, said in a statement.
In their lawsuit, the biotech companies allege that: “Bill 2491 will cause damage to Plaintiff’s goodwill and reputation.” Seems to me the companies are doing a pretty good job of doing that damage to themselves. Big corporations suing a small island council that’s trying, in good faith, to protect its people—not the best PR move, is it?
[Authors note: Syngenta has so far not responded to my interview requests. Neither has anyone from the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (HCIA) that represents the biotech seeds industry. Back in December, Mark Philipson, corporate affairs chief at Syngenta, Hawaii and HCIA president, had this to say in response to my interview request: “Syngenta Hawaii strives to respond to local and major mainstream news media requests for information. Due to our level of resources, we cannot always respond to other media outlets and do not provide facility tours.” He did say he would answer specific questions if I emailed them to him. I’ve done so, asking him to respond in his capacity as HICA president. I am awaiting his reply. However, the lawsuit answers most of the questions I'd asked him.]
Visit EcoWatch’s GMO page for more related news on this topic.
New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.
- Groundbreaking Fossil Shows Prehistoric 15-Foot Reptile Tried to ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Giant 'Toothed' Birds Flew Over Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago ... ›
- World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›