A federal court recently ruled that Kauai County’s right-to-know law dealing with genetically modified organisms and pesticides is unenforceable. The court determined that state law preempts the county’s local law.

Agribusiness and chemical corporations are also challenging Hawaii County’s GMO law — which bans certain kinds of GMO testing and open-air use — arguing, once again that state law trumps what the local community wants. The court is expected to override Hawaii County’s ordinance on similar grounds.

The Kauai decision, which was expected, validates the worst of our legal system — that corporations are able to use the law and government to trump environmental and public health protections, by overriding our local, democratic, self-governing authority.


Civil Beat cartoonist John Pritchett illustrates the GMO debate in Hawaii.

John Pritchett/Civil Beat

Corporations trampling the rights of local communities is no surprise. But if there is a surprise, it’s that anti-GMO activists, their environmental attorneys and local elected officials are still unable to confront the uncomfortable truth — that the people of Hawaii do not have the power to self-govern, including the power to say “no” to GMOs.

Our current structure of law ignores the right to local self-government — yet, time and time again, activists run to this structure in the hopes that it will eventually recognize that the rights of people and nature must be placed above corporate control.

If the people of Hawaii are serious about banning GMOs, they must begin to directly challenge the existing structure of law which, so long as it is in place, guarantees that they can never enforce such a local GMO ban.

For more than a century, corporations and their lawyers have been using the courts to concoct a broad structure of law that elevates corporate “rights” over community rights.

They’ve succeeded, such that today’s corporations possess the “right” to use our state and federal government to override community decision-making.

This corporate legal system is in inherent conflict with our fundamental right to local self-government — including our right to say “no” to GMOs.

Anti-GMO activists, their environmental attorneys and local elected officials are still unable to confront the uncomfortable truth — that the people of Hawaii do not have the power to self-govern, including the power to say “no” to GMOs.

For if a handful of corporations have the constitutional “right” to patent, grow and distribute GMOs on Kauai, the Big Island or elsewhere, our community vision of sustainable farming isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

In short, our structure of law can either protect the “rights” of corporations or it can protect the rights of communities and nature, but it cannot do both.

Today, communities across the U.S. are recognizing that we must dismantle this structure to create the economically and environmentally sustainable communities that we want and need.

Farming communities in Oregon have come to grips with that realization. They’ve proposed Community Bills of Rights ordinances, which recognize the right of communities to local, sustainable food systems. The ordinances ban the use of pesticides and GMOs as a violation of that right and eliminate corporate “rights” and state governmental authority, which today are used to force GMOs and pesticides into communities.

Oregon communities and over 150 others across the country, represent the necessary next step in our activism — addressing the root causes of why our structure of law stops us from protecting our communities and the environment.

Adopting similar local Community Bills of Rights laws at the county level in Hawaii would re-focus the struggle on what is truly at stake — the right of the community majority to advance visions of sustainability over corporate power.

That, in turn, could give rise to changes to the Hawaii Constitution to give provide communities true self-governing power to protect their health, safety and welfare, and to eliminate the ability of corporations to use the constitution against the very people that it is supposed to protect.

It’s time to look beyond the old structure of law. A new paradigm is emerging — one that recognizes community rights not corporate control.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author

  • Kai Huschke
    Kai Huschke is the CELDF organizer for the Northwest and Hawaii. Kai led efforts in Spokane, Washington to adopt a local bill of rights addressing neighborhood development, rights for the Spokane River and worker rights. Kai lives with his family in a rural neighborhood of Spokane where his neighbors include deer, marmot and bald eagle.