By Christopher D'Angelo
LIHUE, Hawaii (Reuters) - The governing body on the Hawaiian island of Kauai voted on Saturday to override their mayor's veto of a bill that seeks to reign in widespread pesticide use and the testing of new genetically modified crops.
The Kauai County Council's 5-2 vote means agricultural companies will be unable to plant crops inside buffer zones created around schools, homes and hospitals. New limits will be placed on pesticide use and companies must disclose where they will plant test crops.
The vote to override Kauai County Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.'s veto caps months of protests by islanders and mainland U.S. groups opposed to extensive testing of crops on Kauai, a largely rural island that has a tropical climate considered ideal for trying out new biotech crops. The council needed five votes to cancel the veto.
The spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and feed has triggered a global dispute with critics claiming GMOs require more use of pesticides and cause environmental damage and health issues for people and animals.
Companies opposed to the measure have said biotech crops are essential in boosting global food production and in improving environmental sustainability. They said pesticides already are well regulated by state and federal agencies.
Among the firms that have tested biotech crops on Hawaii's "Garden Isle," as Kauai is known, are DuPont, Syngenta AG, and Dow AgroSciences, a division of Dow Chemical Co.
Passage of the measure in Kauai was hailed by California-based Pesticide Action Network North America.
"The victory not only creates critical new laws but also serves as a signal to other communities across the United States that they can prevail over powerful corporations," Paul Towers, the group's organizing and media director, said in a statement.
Concerns about pesticide use on the island have been mounting in recent years and some people contend health problems, including cases of cancer, are tied to the farm chemicals on the experimental crop fields.
Carvalho said the bill is vulnerable to legal challenge and he proposed ordering a study on health and environmental impacts of pesticides on the island.
"Of course we will honor the council's decision and I will continue to work with my departments to determine how we will implement this new law," the mayor said after the vote. He said the law would take effect in nine months.
(Writing by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Bill Trott)