Agrichemical companies sue to block anti-GMO law in Hawaii

LIHUE, Hawaii Sat Jan 11, 2014 12:02pm EST

LIHUE, Hawaii Jan 11 (Reuters) - Three of the world's largest agrichemical companies have filed a lawsuit in Hawaii to try to block a new law enacted on the island of Kauai that tries to limit the planting of biotech crops and the use of pesticides.

DuPont, Syngenta and Agrigenetics Inc., a company affiliated with Dow AgroSciences, which is a unit of Dow Chemical, filed suit Friday in the U.S. District Court in Honolulu, Hawaii. The suit claims the action in Kauai is unconstitutional.

"The ordinance is invalid," Paul Minehart, a spokesman for Syngenta, told Reuters. "It arbitrarily targets our industry with burdensome and baseless restrictions on farming operations by attempting to regulate activities over which counties in Hawaii have no jurisdiction. These activities are already regulated by governmental agencies under state and federal laws."

The Kauai bill, which was passed by island leaders in November, requires large agricultural companies to disclose pesticide use and GMO crop plantings while establishing buffer zones around schools, homes and hospitals.

A similar measure has been introduced on the island of Maui. And in December, Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi signed into law a measure that prohibits biotech companies from growing any new genetically modified crops on that island. Island leaders were not immediately available for comment.

The Hawaiian islands are a popular testing ground for biotech crops for many companies due to a favorable year-round climate.

Measures taken there to limit biotech crop development and related pesticide use are part of a larger battle brewing in the United States and several other countries. Biotech crop critics argue that genetically modified crops, first introduced in 1996, lead to increased pesticide use, environmental damage and health problems for people and animals.

The most popular biotech crops are corn and soybeans that have been genetically altered to make the plants tolerant of chemical herbicides and resist pest damage. Farmers say using biotech crops improves production and makes fighting weeds easier.

The companies assert that biotech crops are essential to boost global food production and improve environmental sustainability. They say the crops and the pesticides used on them are safe and are already well regulated by state and federal agencies.

Dow and biotech crop developer Monsanto Co. are currently seeking regulatory approval for new pesticides and biotech crops because there is widespread weed resistance to current popular pesticides.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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