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Kauai delegation heads to Syngenta’s home country

The delegation seeks to gain support for pesticide regulation here in Hawaii from leaders in Switzerland, where GMO cultivation and the use of many restricted use pesticides is already banned.

News Report
Will Caron

Above: Dust drift from tilling on a Kauai GMO test field owned by Dow Agrosciences | Samuel Morgan Shaw

A delegation of Kauai residents is traveling to Basel, Switzerland, this week, at the invitation of Swiss non-profit MultiWatch. The Kauai delegation has been invited to speak on April 24 and 25 to a European alliance of environmental organizations, trade unions and political parties tracking the activities and impacts of Swiss transnational corporations around the world. Switzerland is the home of Syngenta, one of five multinational chemical corporations conducting research operations in the Hawaiian islands.

The delegation includes Kauai County Councilmember and environmental non-profit Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) board President, Gary Hooser, HAPA board member and Hawaiian cultural educator Mālia Kahaleʻinia Chun, and environmental scientist and co-director of Ohana O Kauaʻi, Fern Rosenstiel. Each individual will be representing their own personal view points, and will not be representing any official position of their organizations.

The purpose of the trip is to educate this international audience on the cultural and historical context of Syngenta’s operations on Kauai, the impacts of the industry’s activities, and the political and social efforts of the community to gain environmental and public health protections (i.e. through Kauai County’s Bill 2491/Ordinance 960 and through state bills such as HB1514).

“The trip represents a unique opportunity for Kauai residents to join with other international organizations and individuals to discuss the impacts that companies like Syngenta and other large transnational corporations have on small communities around the world,” said Hooser.

Syngenta conducts heavy applications of Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) on Kauai and sells RUPs containing atrazine and paraquat for use around Hawaii—pesticides which are banned in the company’s home country of Switzerland. Syngenta sprays these pesticides on a regular basis just a mile or two from Waimea Canyon Middle and High Schools, Kekaha School, Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital and the homes of many of the roughly 1,700 residents of Waimea, and roughly 3,500 residents of Kekaha, Kauai. In addition, Syngenta has extensive acreage of open-air genetically modified organism (GMO) test crops on Kauai, while cultivation of GMOs is banned in Switzerland.

The Kauai delegation will be meeting with numerous organizations as well as with Swiss government leaders to educate them on the impacts of intensive pesticide use around the Hawaiian islands, as well as on Syngenta’s response to county and state attempts to require basic pesticide disclosure and buffer-zones around sensitive areas.

“I will have only a few minutes on the microphone and intend to tell Kauai’s story and to ask the board and shareholders of Syngenta to withdraw from their lawsuit against Kauai County, honor the laws passed by our community, and provide Kauai County with the same respect and protections afforded to the people of Switzerland,” said Hooser. 

The Kauai contingent will also be sharing with the Swiss people the historical and cultural context in which this is occurring. “This is an excellent opportunity to bring the cultural, health and environmental impacts that these chemical corporations have in Hawaii to the international forefront,” said Chun, a resident of Kekaha.

The delegation will be presenting Swiss lawmakers with a petition from Hawaii residents and other supporters requesting that Swiss lawmakers pressure Syngenta to stop spraying atrazine and paraquat and to withdraw its lawsuit against the county of Kauai regarding Ordinance 960. The petition was at nearly 2,000 signatures at the time of publication.

The Swiss sponsors of the conference (the Basel chapter of MultiWatch) are providing partial travel support and will be hosting the contingent while in Basel. HAPA is raising the remaining funds via community donations.

“We are excited about the opportunity to bring international attention to what’s happening here in Hawaii,” said Rosenstiel. “Since our local communities have been blocked by the influence of these multinational chemical corporations at the county and state levels, we are hopeful that by taking this message to their headquarters we may be able to better secure the rights and protections they give their own citizens.”

Note: Ikaika Hussey, publisher of the Hawaii Independent, is a board member for HAPA.