The recent ruling on Kauai County’s Ordinance 960, formerly Bill 2491, has profound positive implications for the Garden Island and the entire state.

For farmers and ranchers, the backbone of Hawaii’s agricultural industry, this was a major step forward, but there is still much more work ahead.

Hawaii has always valued its agricultural roots, and now, more than ever, we must do all that we can to ensure that our farmers have all the tools they need to be productive and succeed.

GMO Kauai

When it was passed, anti-GMO supporters on Kauai celebrated the new law requiring more disclosure from biotech companies.

Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

Ordinance 960 was directed at only a handful of large farming operations on the island, redundant, but inconsistent and costly regulations burden all farmers, many of whom are already struggling.

They need protection from overzealous special interests if we are going to continue the long history of agriculture in Hawaii.

For these reasons, we applaud U.S. District Court Judge Barry Kurren’s decision that state law invalidates the proposed county ordinance.

As the judge noted, Hawaii already has a comprehensive framework for addressing the application of restricted use pesticides, and the Kauai County ordinance was unnecessary.

As part of the statewide farming community, we believe this decision has positive implications for the other counties facing similar issues fomented by mainland activist organizations.

With high-powered public relations campaigns, these organizations infiltrate our counties and recruit willing elected officials and well-intended but uninformed residents to further their cynical agenda of producing fear, not food.

We hope the Kauai County Council and other counties will look to this ruling when considering future proposed laws that would threaten the livelihood of Hawaii’s farmers without basis in science or fact.

With high-powered public relations campaigns, these organizations infiltrate our counties and recruit willing elected officials and well-intended but uninformed residents to further their cynical agenda of producing fear, not food.

Specifically with regard to Ordinance 960, it is important to note that state law already requires record keeping and reporting on the application of restricted-use pesticides.

Both the state Departments of Agriculture and Health oversee these efforts and are working with farmers so that pesticides are used safely and that there are no problems for people or the environment.

A plethora of recent studies of air and water resources indicate the existing regulatory regime is working well.

Establishing mandatory one-size fits all “buffer zones” at the county level is unwarranted as state and federal regulators, who are qualified to review the extensive scientific studies submitted in support of pesticide product registration applications, have already considered whether and to what extent buffers are necessary to protect human health or the environment.

Even so, in collaboration with the pesticides branch of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the companies targeted by the County Council have shown their commitment to transparency by helping to create and voluntarily participating in the “Kauai Agricultural Good Neighbor Program,” which should serve as a model for other counties.

This voluntary program encourages large farms to disclose the types of restricted-use pesticides that are applied on their fields before and after application, and to create expanded buffer zones between farm fields and nearby neighbors, schools and medical facilities. This is an example of the positive results that can be achieved through cooperation among government, community and the growers.

It’s important to note that these restrictions are more stringent than what is required for residential use, even though many of the same active ingredients in restricted-used pesticides can be purchased by consumers in retail stores.

In our fragile island environment, protecting local agricultural crops and native forests from invasive species, which have the potential to devastate our industry, should be priorities, and if counties want to designate funds for agriculture, they should be used to rid us of invasive plants and animals.

This would be a use of funds that would protect the environment, while supporting local farmers.


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About the Author

  • Kirby Kester
    Kirby Kester is the president of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, a Hawaii-based non-profit organization that promotes modern agriculture. Through education, collaboration and advocacy, the group works to ensure a safe and sustainable food supply, support responsible farming practices and build a healthy state economy.