A federal judge has refused to allow both anti-GMO and biotech support groups to wade into a lawsuit challenging Kauai County’s right to regulate genetically modified organisms and pesticides.

A number of organizations had asked to be allowed to file amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs in the case which is garnering national attention.

Biotech companies Syngenta, Pioneer and Agrigenetics filed suit against Kauai County in January, shortly after the county council passed a measure that would force the seed companies to disclose what pesticides they are spraying, including quantities and locations. The new law also requires the companies to establish buffer zones between their fields and public areas and to report any genetically engineered crops they are growing in the county. Penalties include hefty fines.

County council members decided the measure was needed to protect the public health but the companies say it would subject their operations to corporate espionage and theft of trade secrets.

The issue has become highly charged, not only on Kauai but on the Big Island and Maui as well where GMO restrictions have either recently been put in place or are in the works. Maui voters will be asked to put a moratorium on GMO crops through a ballot question in the November election, placed there through a voter initiative. And a recently passed Big Island law restricting GMO production is being challenged in court by several agriculture interests, including the nation’s largest biotech trade group, the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

That group was among those turned away Wednesday in a ruling by federal Magistrate Barry Kurren in the Syngenta vs. Kauai County case. About a dozen farmers and growers, including industry trade groups, had asked to filed amicus briefs. They included Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, Big Island Banana Growers, and the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council, among others.

The judge also reviewed requests from the other side — Free Speech for People,  Equal Justice Society, National Center for Lesbian Rights and EarthRights International as well as local and national organic farmers led by Kauai Kunana.

But Kurren found that the seed companies, the county and other groups that have been allowed to intervene already have the issues thoroughly covered.

“Additionally, the Court finds that the lawyers on each side of the case are excellent and fully capable of informing the Court of every aspect of the various issues in this case,” he wrote, adding that the interest groups’ filings were already duplicative and “will unnecessarily complicate the already excessive briefing before the Court.”

Taste of Ag papaya

Chad Blair/Civil Beat


 Correction: An earlier version of this post said the Biotechnology Industry Organization and other groups were challenging the Maui initiative process. In fact, BIO is involved in a  legal challenge of the new Big Island ordinance.

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