Will the New Monsanto Doctrine Hijack Democracy in Epic Hawaii GMO Ruling?

Federal and State agencies created to protect people's health and environmental safety have been reinvented as legal shields to protect the world's most toxic agrochemical companies from people

On June 15 a panel of federal judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will meet in Honolulu to hear oral arguments that are likely to result in the most important environmental legal decision of our time.

The hearing involves recent Federal District Court decisions that took the draconian step of intervening to invalidate public safety laws in three different Hawaii counties.  The laws had been passed to protect the basic civil rights of citizens to a safe environment by regulating the toxic pesticides that are being sprayed on hundreds of experimental GMO test sites across the islands.

If these rulings are not overturned by the Appellate or Supreme Court, then the precedent set by an activist Hawaii Federal District Court on behalf of the six largest agrochemical companies on earth could create the environmental equivalent of a Citizens United decision.

Few Americans were aware of the implications of the “corporate-personhood” creating Citizens United decision until it became enshrined into case law by a similarly activist federal court system, granting unprecedented power to the world’s largest corporations to hijack democracy in the name of  “free speech.”

Progressive Source, my small public interest communications company, has created the animated two minute video  below, as well as this Change.org petition, which can be signed on the upper right of this page (and linked to and shared here), to build public awareness of what I call the  Monsanto Doctrine–before it is too late to stop it.

Ronnie Cummins, the outspoken founder of the Organic Consumers Association, believes the Monsanto Doctrine is an appropriate legal characterization of what he calls “genetically modified democracy.”  Cummins observes that “Hawaii is a dumping ground for GMO testing and the dumping of untested chemicals that always accompanies them.”

Cummins warns that the federal court’s  interventions in the Hawaii cases as “part of a growing trend of federal preemption of state rights in which the judicial branch, which is supposed to act to balance federal, state and local power, has become part of the establishment.”

Simply put, the Monsanto Doctrine is the right of agrochemical corporations to spray unlimited quantities of industrial poisons regardless of any local law passed to protect human or environmental safety.  If it is upheld by the federal Appeals Court, then local governments around the country will be rendered powerless to protect its citizens’ basic civil right to health and safety.

Zen Honeycutt, a mother of three whose child’s reactions to toxic food caused her to found the grassroots  Mom’s Across America organization, says that the District Court decisions show, “tragic disregard” for the citizens of Hawaii. She believes that, “Health and environmental issues must always be governable by the local counties because they are the ones experiencing the health and financial burden of pollution. We expect our federal government to support local democracy, not destroy it. The Federal District Court’s decisions in Hawaii were a shameful mark on the history of our society and we look forward to a correction of justice.”

The Hawaii District Court decisions to be reviewed on June 15 blocked important, prudent public safety laws passed in Maui, Kauai and Hawaii counties from taking effect.  They were based upon the ominous legal finding that the very power of the counties to make these laws was supposedly “preempted” by the superior power of either the State or Federal Departments of Agriculture, despite the facts that neither agency has ever tested the safety of the pesticides being used in Hawaii.

In this, and in accepting preemptive powers from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration (which have also never independently tested the long term impact of GMO food, Roundup or other pesticides on human beings), the federal judiciary is being used as an instrument to hijack local democracy.

The Monsanto Doctrine means that the federal agencies that were  established by Congress to protect citizen health and environmental safety have been reinvented as legal shields to protect the world’s most toxic agrochemical companies from the authority of local government to provide that very protection to its citizens.  

By invalidating three separate Hawaii County laws providing citizens with the basic civil rights of a safe environment, the District Court has ruled that the Federal and State agencies created to protect people can now be used to protect corporations from people.

These rulings are based upon the finding that Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow Chemical, BASF, Dupont and Bayer, multinational corporations which sell tens of billions of dollars of pesticides each year, would, according to the federal court,  “suffer irreparable harm” from curtailing their operations to comply with local laws.

This Monsanto Doctrine of pre-emption convinced the Federal District  to invalidate poplar common sense safety laws passed by County legislators in Kauai and Hawaii County, as well as a GMO Moratorium ballot initiative passed by the citizens of Maui during  the November 2014 election.

Maui’s ballot initiative called for a moratorium on the production of GMO seed crops until they had been independently tested and proven safe.  Although such tests are something that the federal EPA, DOA, and FDA have all failed to ever do, the federal court took the historic step of prohibiting Maui’s government from certifying the vote or implementing its new moratorium law.

In cases involving the islands of Kauai and Hawaii a federal judge struck down local government laws that would have required buffer zones to prevent pesticide spraying near schools, and open air genetic engineering experiments that were seen as threatening to local organic agriculture.

Gary Hooser, a Kauai County Council Member who spearheaded his County’s legislation, (and in the video below describes his government’s courageous struggle to provide the County’s citizen’s with their “core basic human rights: the right to free speech, free expression, clean air, clean water and self-determination by our community.”

Hooser created Kauai’s Bill 2491 a few years ago in response to concerns about illnesses in the community from the more than 300 annual field tests conducted on the island by Syngenta, Dow,  Dupont, Pioneer and BASF. “Doctors who had delivered babies were saying they believed we had 10 times the national rate of certain heart defects on the West Side of Kauai,” he explained. “Kids were getting sick in the schools, sea urchins dying in the ocean. So we drafted a bill that required disclosure (of which pesticides were used) and modest buffer zones of 500 feet  between pesticide spraying and schools, hospitals and homes. And rather than comply with our law that we passed democratically in our community, they took us to court.

“They are suing us today for the right to spray poisons next to schools and not tell us about it.”

The Ninth circuit Appellate decision to uphold or overturn the Federal District Court in Hawaii may have global implications. That’s because a Monsanto Doctrine victory could be applied by pesticide multinationals to secretly negotiated international trade agreements like NAFTA, the TPP and TPIP. Such challenges to common sense regulation by the agrochemical giants would be decided by secret industry-selected tribunals, who would have unappealable authority to impose rigged GMO and pesticide “safety” findings upon entire nations. With zero transparency, these tribunals could levy fines of billions of dollars in imaginary “lost income” for toxic polluters whose imaginary corporate rights are infringed upon by common sense public safety regulations.

Kauai’s  Gary Hooser, whose County will is a plaintiff in the June 15 oral arguments that activists have dubbed, “Environmental Justice Day,” believes that justice will prevail in the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court, which has a reputation for upholding civil rights. “There is no state law and are no court cases before this that keeps us from passing laws to protect ourselves.  The state constitution says that the State and all its political  subdivisions, which means counties, shall  protect the environment  and health and water. So as a Council Member It’s my job to look out for the people in my community.  And the Federal judge is saying I can’t do my job? I have a hard time with that.”

A few days before the trial, hundreds of native Hawaiians marched as “Aina Protectors United” to demand justice; a video of the conch shell blowing march through the state capital rotunda can be seen here:


“These companies are trampling over our basic civil rights,” Hooser said.  “And we refuse to give them up.  We’re entitled to them. And we’re going to fight them every step of the way to keep them.”

Jonathan Greenberg

The founder and Editor of the Sonoma County Independent, Greenberg is an investigative financial journalist with 40 years of experience with national publications. Greenberg also serves as founder and Executive Director of Informing to Empower, the parent non-profit of both the Sonoma Independent and the Maui Independent. Greenberg has won awards from the Greater Bay Journalism Awards for the past four years on behalf of the Sonoma Independent, starting with his coverage of the closing of County library cutbacks, and then the struggle to reopen Palm Drive Hospital. Jonathan Greenberg recently wrote three of the most widely-read exposes about Trump’s career ever published on the Washington Post. Jonathan was the notorious Forbes 400 reporter who taped two long Trump calls in 1984 in which he pretended to be the fictitious John Baron. His Post expose about this, with audio here, has been the subject of monologues on Colbert, the Daily Show and Seth Meyer’s A Closer Look. Jonathan has appeared live on a dozen top news shows, including Chris Cuomo’s CNN Good Day and most recently on CNN’s prime time Upfront with Erin Burnett to expose Trump’s latest lies. Jonathan was a Web 1.0 pioneer, founding Gist Communications in 1996, an Internet company that competed successfully with TV Guide Online. In 1997, Gist was one of just 14 websites in the world to be named a winner of the First Annual Webby Awards in San Francisco. Jonathan’s professional career began as a fact checker at Forbes Magazine, where he advanced to the role of the lead reporter in creating the first Forbes 400 listing of wealthy Americans, as recounted in this recent article for Forbes’ 100th anniversary issue and more extensively in this biography of Malcolm Forbes. Jonathan has been an investigative financial and political journalist for such national publications as The Washington Post, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Mother Jones, Forbes, Town & Country, Money, GQ, Manhattan,Inc., The New Republic, and Alternet. From 2011 through 2017, Jonathan was a blogger for the Huffington Post, where his narrative-transforming reporting and analysis about subjects like Bernie Sanders, Monsanto and Native Hawaiian water protectors achieved some of the widest readership of any HuffPost writer on these subjects. Jonathan’s nearly 40 years of professional media and reporting experience has been enhanced by a Yale Law School Masters Degree fellowship program, from which he graduated with honors in First Amendment Law from internationally renowned attorney Floyd Abrams and then Yale University President Benno Schmidt. Jonathan is the author of the critically acclaimed biography Staking A Claim: Jake Simmons and the Making of an African-American Oil Dynasty, which a Washington Post Book World front page review called, “a rare biography that challenges the readers senses in the same the way science fiction does.” In 1992, he edited Buying America Back: Economic Choices for the 1990′s, an anthology of 45 progressive solution-oriented essays called by Publisher’s Weekly, “An immensely important resource for policymakers, community activists, and everyone concerned with building a more humane future.”
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