WAIMEA, HAWAI`I – The Hawaiian island of Kaua`i has become Ground Zero in the intense domestic political battle over genetically modified crops. But the fight isn’t just about the merits or downsides of GMO technology. It’s about regular old pesticides.
The four transnational agribusinesses that are experimenting with genetically engineered crops on Kaua`i have transformed part of the island into one of the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture.
For the better part of two decades, Syngenta, BASF Plant Science, DuPont Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences have been drenching their test fields near Waimea, a small town on the southwest coast of Kaua`i, with some of the most dangerous synthetic pesticides in use in agriculture today, at an intensity that far surpasses the norm at most other American farms, an analysis of government pesticide databases shows.
Each of the seven highly toxic chemicals most commonly used on the test fields has been linked to a variety of serious health problems ranging from childhood cognitive disorders to cancer. And when applied together in a toxic cocktail, their joint action can make them even more dangerous to exposed people.
Last fall, the Kaua`i County Council enacted Ordinance 960 (pdf), the first local law in the United States that specifically regulates the cultivation of existing GMO crops, despite an aggressive pushback from the industry, which contends that existing federal regulations suffice.
The GMO field experiments are supervised by the US Department of Agriculture, and the pesticides have the Environmental Protection Agency’s stamp of approval. But where some see oversight, others see blinders. Kaua`i County, which encompasses the entire island, contends that the federal agencies have ignored the health impacts while allowing the corporations to freely pursue profits, so it has claimed authority to regulate the pesticides used within its borders.