By Christopher D'Angelo
LIHUE, Hawaii (Reuters) - The mayor of the tropical island of Kauai, Hawaii, vetoed a measure on Thursday that reins in pesticide use by agricultural companies and limits where they can plant genetically modified crops, saying the bill was "legally flawed."
The Kauai County Council voted 6-1 on October 16 in favor of the bill that would require buffer zones around schools, hospitals and homes where no crops can be grown and limits pesticide use. The bill also requires the companies to disclose what GMO crops they grow and what pesticides they use.
Kauai County Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said in a statement that while he agrees with the intent of the bill, he is not going to allow it to go into effect. Instead, Carvalho said, he wants the council to fund a study of the environmental and health impacts of pesticide use on the island.
"We can and will find legal means to address these important health and safety issues," Carvalho said.
The council can override the mayor's veto with five votes.
This latest twist comes after months of protests by islanders and mainland U.S. groups who want to see a range of broad controls on the global agrichemical companies that have found Kauai's tropical climate ideal for year-round testing of new biotech crops.
Among those testing biotech crops on Hawaii's "Garden Isle," as Kauai is known, are DuPont, Syngenta AG, BASF, and Dow AgroSciences, a division of Dow Chemical Co. Kauai Coffee, the largest coffee grower in Hawaii, also opposed the measure.
Critics claim the biotech crops contribute to extensive pesticide use, which in turn causes environmental damage and health concerns for people and animals.
But the industry says the biotech crops are crucial for increasing global food production and improving environmental sustainability, and they say the pesticide use is already well regulated by state and federal officials. They said the Kauai measure is bad policy.
Alicia Maluafiti, executive director Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, said the bill was "severely flawed," and her group was glad to see it vetoed.
"This measure, although intended to be good for the community, would have had long-term negative effects on all agriculture in Kauai and our state, not just the seed industry or big agriculture," she said.
Concerns about pesticide use on the island have been mounting in recent years and some allege health problems, including increased rates of cancer, are tied to the farm chemicals on the experimental crop fields.
"Kauai residents are exposed to pesticides at every turn - their homes, their schools, their gardens, their hospitals," said Paul Achitoff, an attorney with Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law group based in California that supports the measure. "It's outrageous the mayor has chosen to disregard their health and instead pander to industry."
(Reporting by Christopher D'Angelo in Kauai; Writing and additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)