Kauai residents and organizations are suing the state and Syngenta in an attempt to prevent the company from continuing to grow genetically modified crops on public land.
Punohu Kekaualua, a Hawaiian cultural practitioner and resident of Kekaha, is one of the plaintiffs along with the organizations Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, Ke Kauhulu O Mana, Surfrider Foundation and Kohola Leo.
The complaint filed Tuesday contends that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources shouldn’t have approved a permit in February that allows Syngenta to use more than 61 acres of land in West Kauai.
The plaintiffs contend the state should have required Syngenta to conduct an environmental assessment before issuing the permit.
The lawsuit also says the state shouldn’t have exempted Syngenta from preparing an environmental disclosure document, and alleges the state relied on an outdated permit to allow Syngenta to use 17.6 acres of conservation land.
The plaintiffs want Syngenta to stop using the land until it has conducted an environmental assessment.
Dawn Webster, a communications specialist for the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit is about making sure the state does its job.
“The lands in question are crown lands, coastal and conservation land, abutting the ocean and close to a residential community,” she wrote in an email. “So, the practices connected to the kind of industrial farming Syngenta does has the potential to harm people and land/ocean/waterways.”
A spokesman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources declined to comment on the lawsuit, and Syngenta did not respond to a request for comment.
The complaint is the latest effort to crack down on the seed industry in Kauai. Some residents have been concerned about the potential environmental and public health impacts of pesticides applied on genetically engineered crops.
In 2013, the county passed a law to requiring large agricultural companies to provide more detail about when and where they apply pesticides and in what amounts. But a federal judge struck down the ordinance, saying the county doesn’t have the right to regulate agriculture.
Kauai County helped pay for a study that concluded there’s no statistical evidence that GMO farming harms the environment or public health. The study emphasized that there was not enough data to draw that conclusion, and recommended additional data collection.
Last month, a former employee of DuPont Pioneer on Oahu filed a separate lawsuit contending that the company fired her after she complained about misuse of pesticides on the North Shore fields.