Chalk up another win for the little guy. A handful of residents of Kauai’s Waimea community prevailed in court over biotech giant DuPont-Pioneer earlier this month. Citing extensive, harmful dust generated by DuPont’s seed operations, a jury awarded 15 residents $500,000 in damages.
This is just the latest in an impressive string of victories against pesticide and genetically engineered (GE) seed corporations in Kauai, the global epicenter for GE seed testing.
Why the lawsuit? Picture red (pesticide-contaminated) dust blanketing your house and yard, regularly blowing over from neighboring fields, leaving you unable to open your windows or leave your home. That’s what residents of this lower-income community of color have faced for years, and that's what ended up spurring litigation.
While the judge directed attorneys to focus only on impacts to physical property, it’s hard to ignore the health effects of pesticides drifting through the air or contained in dust blanketing homes. According to court documents, the pesticides sprayed by DuPont in Kauai have been linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity, birth defects, disruption of the endocrine, immune and nervous systems, liver damage and more.
Lawyers for the case note that several dozen more Waimea residents may yet come forward to seek awards.
Global profits, local harms
The GE seeds grown in Hawai'i are part of a larger, global story. Corporations based around the globe test and grow GE seeds on the islands before shipping them to places like Iowa to sell to U.S. farmers and across the globe.
DuPont-Pioneer is exposing residents in Waimea to six to eight times the number of pesticides used on the mainland and in some cases pesticides are applied 15 times more frequently over the course of the year. The company grows GE seeds year round in Hawai'i, and intensively spray pesticides on these test crops.
Residents on the other side of town are bordered by Syngenta’s operations, including schoolchildren attending Waimea Canyon Middle School. Teachers there have raised concerns about pesticide exposure for years, petitioning federal environmental officials and citing the regular use of brain-harming pesticides.
To address these concerns, residents of Kaua’i helped pass a law in late 2013 to restrict the use of hazardous pesticides near vulnerable communities, and create comprehensive disclosure of pesticide use. The affected multi-national corporations—BASF, Dow, DuPont-Pioneer and Syngenta—promptly sued the County of Kaua’i.
Demanding respect from Syngenta
Earlier this month, a handful of community leaders boarded a plane to Switzerland to share their concerns directly with Syngenta shareholders at their annual meeting. As county councilman Gary Hooser later recounted:
My message was clear and unambiguous. I asked them to withdraw from their lawsuit against the County of Kaua'i, to honor and follow our laws, and to give our community the same respect and protections afforded to the people in their home country of Switzerland.
Needless to say, the Kaua’i delegation wasn’t welcomed with open arms by the CEO or company security, but Hooser was able to share a few words directly with shareholders on the big screen and the small delegation connected with allies in the global movement to advance protections from the use of harmful pesticides.
DuPont, Syngenta and the rest of the Big Six (Monsanto, Dow, BASF and Bayer) may have underestimated the power of the Kauaian people, be they neighbors, teachers or elected officials. The corporate giants have awoken the residents, not the other way around.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.