Coalition in Hawaii backs environmental law
A coalition of farmers and environmental groups in Hawaii is backing a county law which is being challenged in court by the world's biggest biotech trade association.
A coalition of farmers and environmental groups in Hawaii is backing a county ordinance which is being challenged in court by the world's biggest biotech trade association.
The ordinance aims to protect the land and environment from being harmed by the effects of genetically engineered or GE crop production.
A lawyer with an agricultural NGO, the Center for Food Safety, which is involved in the lawsuit, George Kimbrell, told Indira Moala the law is particularly important because Hawaii has become the epicentre for GE crop experimentation in the United States.
GEORGE KIMBRELL: One of the major harms of genetically engineered crops is transgenic contamination. It's when the transgenic material escapes and goes into related organisms where it's unknown and unwanted. If you export your crops to a place like New Zealand for example, like most of the world, that regulates genetically engineered crops, than you risk losing your market, your customers and your reputation if you're contaminated. That harm transgenic contamination, has both an economic and an environmental component to it.
INDIRA MOALA: Ok so this ordinance 13-121, it's a real protection for local farmers and the land and the community there on the island. And not just for now but for future generations.
GK: Right. I think the purpose of it is to protect the islands local farmers as well as their native ecosystems, their native environments and so they don't have a loss of biodiversity here through this transgenic contamination, as you say, for current generations and future generations.
IM: What was the initial reaction from local farmers and environmental groups when this huge corporation, BIO, filed this lawsuit - which if successful, would really take away all those vital protections?
GK: Yeah I mean, I think people were alarmed. You know, I've done this work nationally for ten years or so and we've helped counties across the country pass similar ordinances and there has never been any litigation. So this is really the first time that the industry has sued over one of these laws. So I think people there were alarmed. These are powerful coporations obviously that have a lot of financial resources and a lot of power. You know, we're doing everything we can to help defend their rights and the ordinance.
IM: If these types of ordinances exist in other states, why do you think they would pick on Hawaii?
GK: Well, I think it's that this is kind of their incubator for their seed development. And they know that if they lose Hawaii, I think that these companies, they realize that Hawaii's important for their bottom line. It's about the money as always and they need it to enable their seed and their pesticide promoting products.
IM: Was there some type of financial arrangement that really benefitted the economy here in Hawaii?
GK: That's a good question, I don't know other than they're able to sign long term leases and they lease quite a bit of land for this in various other islands - Maui and Kauai. I have two cases in Hawaii now at the moment. But it's a good sign. I mean, it means we're making progress here in the United States because we're passing protective laws from the ground up.
IM: One thing I found interesting about the ordinance was that the ordinance promotes the cultural heritage of indigenous agricultural practice. So that's obviously something that a lot of local farmers in Hawaii really value.
GK: Yeah exactly, and that's a really important point and I think you know, it's in the language of the ordinance itself. When you're talking about seed purity and seed diversity and protecting bio diversity in natural places, I think you know, it's the main focus of the law and why it's so important.
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