Federal District Court Strikes Down County of Kauai’s Controversial GMO Law, Finding That It’s Preempted by State Law.

Plaintiff seed companies filed an action against the County of Kauai, seeking to invalidate and enjoin enforcement of Kauai County Code § 22-22 (2013) (Ordinance 960), relating to pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMO). Generally, the provision (which was originally set to take effect August 16, 2014, but was delayed until October 1, 2014) required commercial agricultural entities to: issue weekly and annual reports regarding their use of "restricted use" pesticides and their possession of GMOs and to establish pesticide buffer zones between crops to which “restricted use” pesticides were applied and surrounding properties. The plaintiffs argued that the law was preempted by state and federal law and that it imposed burdensome operational restrictions violating their due process and equal protection rights. They also alleged that the buffer zone requirement would result in “takings” without just compensation. On motions for summary judgment, the court ruled that Ordinance 960 was preempted by state law and was, therefore, invalid. The court stated that its decision “in no way diminishes the health and environmental concerns of the people of Kauai… [but] simply recognizes that the State of Hawaii has established a comprehensive framework for addressing the application of restricted use pesticides and the planting of GMO crops, which presently precludes local regulation by the County.” The court did not find that the Ordinance was preempted by federal law. It also did not need to rule on the constitutional claims since state preemption invalidated the law. Syngenta Seeds v. County of Kauai, NO. 14-00014 BMK, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117820 (D. Haw. Aug. 23, 2014).