LIHUE — Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser will be among three Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action members who will travel to Switzerland to discuss how the activities of Syngenta, a global Swiss agribusiness, have impacted Kauai.
Hooser said he will not be serving in his official capacity as a Kauai County Council member while in Switzerland, but he plans to share Kauai’s experience attempting to regulate restricted use pesticides.
“We’re going there to tell our story and ask for the same respect and protection that are given to the Swiss people,” said Hooser about the herbicides atrazine and paraquat, which are banned in Syngenta’s home country. “Most people on Kauai and Switzerland aren’t aware this is going on — they are using these toxic pesticides in our counties. We want to draw attention to that fact.”
He said 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.
Joining him on the trip to Basel, Switzerland, where Syngenta’s global headquarters is based, is HAPA board member and Hawaiian cultural educator Malia Kahale‘inia Chun and Fern Rosenstiel, an environmental scientist and co-director of Ohana O Kauai.
The trio were invited by the Swiss nonprofit MultiWatch to speak to a European alliance of environmental organizations, trade unions and political parties Friday and Saturday.
Hooser said he was invited to speak to Syngenta’s board of directors and shareholders during their meeting for three to six minutes.
“We don’t have any preconceived thoughts that they’re going to honor our request,” Hooser said about asking Syngenta to restrict pesticide use on Kauai. “Syngenta has fought our community every step of the way.”
A measure co-introduced by Hooser and approved by the Kauai County Council in 2013 required commercial agricultural entities to disclose the pesticides applied and genetically modified organisms grown on their property.
These requirements, outlined in Bill 2491, also required commercial agricultural entities to establish buffer zones around sensitive areas like nursing homes, schools and hospitals.
That law, challenged by Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, BASF and Dow AgroSciences, was invalidated last year, when U.S. District Court Judge Barry Kurren determined that state laws pre-empted the need for a county law.
Two separate appeals — one by the County of Kauai and another by Ka Makani Hoopono, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America and the Surfrider Foundation — have been filed before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Syngenta spokesman Mark Phillipson said Syngenta has contributed to the community and complies with the state’s good neighbor program where ag companies voluntarily disclose what they’re spraying, and when. He didn’t say whether the company had any concerns about the message from Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action.
“Syngenta Hawaii has been part of the Kauai community for more than 40 years, providing good jobs and contributing to the community in which we work and live,” Phillipson wrote in an email. “Syngenta is proud of its role in this accomplishment. As part of our ongoing commitment to the community, we continue to voluntarily participate in the Kauai Agricultural Good Neighbor Program and the Joint Fact Finding mission with the State of Hawaii and County of Kauai.”
The Swiss sponsors of the conference will provide partial travel support and host the HAPA members while in Basel. The remaining funds will be raised by HAPA through donations.
“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 Kekaha resident.