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Daily News Blog

04
Feb

Maui Decision Not to Defend GE Moratorium Disappoints Activists

(Beyond Pesticides, February 4, 2015)    In the face of a challenge from the chemical industry, Hawaii’s Maui County will not defend a moratorium on genetically engineered (GE) farming that was passed by county voters last fall. Seeking to have the moratorium thrown out, industry giants Monsanto, Dow-owned Agrigenetics and others sued Maui days after the measure was passed.   It was expected that the county would defend the law in the courts, but to the disappointment of many, attorneys for Maui County filed a single sentence brief with the court, stating that it “is taking no position.”

Maui_Landsat_PhotoIn November 2014, Maui residents passed a ballot initiative prohibiting the growth, testing or cultivation of GE crops in Maui County until an environmental and public health study can show that the planting operations are safe for the community. Now residents and local groups supporting the new law are expressing outrage and disappointment over the decision by Maui County to disregard its duty to defend a law passed by its citizens, despite earlier assurances that county will implement the moratorium.

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said that the outrage from activists groups is misplaced. In December, the court allowed the local group, SHAKA Movement, to intervene to defend the moratorium. Mr. Antone expressed that SHAKA Movement indicated that they wanted to defend the law, and that allowing the SHAKA Movement to take the lead would save taxpayers money.   Mr. Antone also noted that despite its stance in court, the county is prepared to present a plan to the County Council on how to enforce the bill if the federal court rules that it is legal.

“The people of Maui passed this law through the proper ballot initiative power; the county attorneys, as public servants, have a duty to defend it,” said George Kimbrell, attorney with Center for Food Safety, in a press release. “This is highly unusual and reveals the power the pesticide industry has on the island.”

Industry’s challenge to the law came just nine days after it was passed. Industry groups filed a motion for summary judgment, which argues that the ballot initiative itself was unconstitutional because it preempted  state and federal law and violated county and state law.  However, several Maui County residents,  along with the SHAKA Movement, filed a preemptive lawsuit against the county, Monsanto and Dow just one day before industry’s suit. That lawsuit sought to assure transparency and influence over the implementation of the initiative, in light of the enormous amount of money that the companies have poured into the county in an attempt to beat the initiative.

Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer, BASF Plant Science LP, and Dow AgroSciences also filed a lawsuit against the neighboring county of Kauai to prevent a similar measure, Ordinance 960, from being implemented. While Kauai’s law did not impose a full ban of GE farming, it did require mandatory notification concerning pesticide applications and buffer zones for crops and pesticide spraying in certain areas. Even with these more moderate restrictions, the Kauai law was stuck down by a federal court in August. While attorneys defending the law filed an appeal in the 9th Circuit in September, some Kauai County Councilmen have introduced a bill to repeal the challenged law, which would invalidate the appeal.

The initiative in Maui is part of a growing movement on the Islands that seeks to protect health and the environment while strengthening local food economies and resiliency. Recently, state legislators announced they will soon be introducing a proposal to establish pesticide-free zones around schools and hospitals throughout the state. Not yet filed or finalized, the proposed bill would create buffer zones around these sensitive areas, prohibiting farmers from using large amounts of pesticides within these specified areas. The proposed bill has garnered wide support across Hawaii, with many groups and individuals, including Kauai Council Member Gary Hooser, coming together during a rally to ask for passage of these much needed pesticide protections. “It’s not just the environmental fringe, it’s not just the activists, these are regular people on the street who are concerned about this issue and it’s the legislature’s responsibility to act on that,” Mr. Hooser told reporters at the rally.

Residents living on the Hawaiian Islands are subject to a particularly pronounced form of environmental assault, as the state’s premiere growing conditions have made it a prime target for agrichemical companies to test new, experimental forms of GE crops. Data released last year reveals that high levels of restricted use pesticides, in some cases almost double the pounds per acre average of other states, are being used in Kauai County. According to the Center for Food Safety, in 2014 alone there were 1,381 field test sites in Hawaii, compared to only 178 sites in California- a large agricultural state. Most of these crops are engineered to resist herbicides and pesticides. Testing these crops means repeated spraying of dangerous chemicals near neighborhoods, schools, and waterways.  Residents of the Hawaiian Islands that live, work, or go to school near these fields are subject to incessant pesticide spraying, as the climate provides a year-round growing season for GE crops. A May 2014 report found 25 herbicides, 11 insecticides and 6 fungicides in Hawaii’s waterways, underscoring resident concerns for both the land and human health.

Beyond Pesticides continues to be an ardent supporter of commonsense protections from pesticides and their associated use on GE crops. Given the impending approval of GE crops designed to withstand applications of the highly toxic herbicide 2,4-D, these protections are more important than ever.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Join us as we continue the conversation on pesticide impacts to farmworkers and farming communities this spring at Beyond Pesticides’ 33rd National Pesticide Forum in Orlando, FL, April 17-18th 2015. Early bird registration is in effect until March 15, so make your plans to register today!

Source: Honolulu Civil Beat  ,  Center for Food Safety Press Release

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