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Daily News Blog

09
Jul

Federal Judge Overturns Maui GE Crop Moratorium

(Beyond Pesticides, July 9, 2015) Last week, a federal judge ruled that a voter-passed ban on the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Maui is preempted by federal and state law, and is invalid. According to the SHAKA Movement legal counsel, the decision, at least temporarily, invalidates a local ordinance that sought to protect against serious harms caused by these practices, and ignores the harms to Maui county and the Hawaii Constitutional mandate placing obligations and duties on the counties to protect the natural environment. In addition to the SHAKA Movement, Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice have pledged to appeal the decision.

“The District Court’s ruling is a big blow to Maui County voters that adopted this ordinance, given the dangers involved with GMO operations,” said  SHAKA spokesperson Mark Sheehan, PhD, Maui_Landsat_Photowho was also one of the five citizens who sponsored the ballot initiative. “We do intend to appeal this decision and are hopeful that the 9th Circuit will recognize the impact that today’s ruling has on the community.”

In 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. Just nine days after the Maui initiative passed, Monsanto, along with Dow-owned Agrigenetics and several industry-friendly groups, sued Maui County, seeking to have the moratorium thrown out, claiming that local governments are preempted from enacting pesticide legislation more restrictive than Hawai’i state law. It also asked the court to temporarily delay the measure’s effectiveness by issuing an injunction.  Maui County immediately embraced the chance to block the will of its voters and agreed to an injunction until March 2015.  However, several Maui County residents,  along with the SHAKA Movement, filed a preemptive lawsuit against the county, Monsanto and Dow, seeking 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.

In the recent ruling, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway stressed that the order only addresses the legal question of county authority, and does not look at whether genetically engineered crops are “good or bad.” Dr. Sheehan expressed disappointment that the ruling turned on  procedural issues instead of addressing the substance of their argument, as the ordinance was specifically written to address issues not found in state statute. Further, he said the law requires the county to protect the health of the environment and the public. “That was lost on the judge, so we will have to move along and have to find justice for the constitutional rights of the people of Maui at another level,” Dr. Sheehan told the Associated Press.

Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice issued a joint statement in response to the decision:

“We are deeply disappointed with Chief District Court Judge Mollway’s very unfortunate and legally incorrect ruling that Maui County’s genetically engineered (GE) crop ordinance is contrary to state and federal law.  Worse, we were wrongly denied the ability to defend the Maui ordinance by the court, despite the county refusing to defend it, a decision we have appealed. We will also continue to fight for the right of all Hawai”˜i communities to protect their children and environment from the activities of these chemical companies, in our ongoing appeals of the Kaua”˜i Ordinance and Big Island GE ordinance cases, currently before the Ninth Circuit. This decision is wrong, and we are confident the Court of Appeals will agree with us, and uphold the rights of all communities to protect their families, farms, and environments from the harms of genetically engineered crops and pesticides.”

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.

In response to all of the harms that the chemical companies have imposed on Hawaii, there has been a growing movement on the Islands seeking to protect health and the environment while strengthening local food economies and resiliency. Kaua’i County Councilmember Gary Hooser recently attended a shareholder meeting for the chemical giant Syngenta, in Basel, Switzerland, where he brought a straightforward message to the corporation and its shareholders. “Withdraw the lawsuit from the County of KauaÊ»i, honor and comply with our laws. Treat us with the same respect, the same dignity and the same protections that you give the people of Switzerland. Do not spray chemicals in my community that you cannot spray in your own community,” he said. The Councilmember was referencing the use of the herbicides atrazine and paraquat, chemicals which are banned from use in Switzerland, but sprayed constantly and even found in drinking water in Hawaii communities. Earlier this year, state legislators announced that they would introduce a proposal to establish pesticide-free zones around schools and hospitals throughout the state. However, despite garnering wide support across Hawaii, with many groups and individuals, including Councilmember Hooser, coming together during a rally to ask for passage of these much needed pesticide protections, the Hawaii state House agriculture committee ultimately rejected the bill.

Other localities have had more success at banning the planting of GE crops. Jackson and Josephine County in Oregon voted overwhelmingly to ban the cultivation, production, and distribution of GE crops within their borders. The two ordinances were both approved overwhelmingly, but fought an uphill legal battle when the state of Oregon passed a law in October 2013 stating that only the state can regulate seeds, which was pushed at the behest of out-of-state chemical companies. Though Jackson County was granted an exemption, two GE farmers sought to overturn the ban and brought suit against the county. Fortunately, in a victory for organic farmers, and non-GE farmers who constantly struggle with the threat of GE contamination, the federal judge rejected the request, and upheld the ban. “We fought the most powerful and influential chemical companies in the world and we won,” Elise Higley, a Jackson County farmer and representative from  Our Family Farms Coalition told Oregon Live.

Beyond Pesticides continues to support the efforts of all farmers, counties, states, and countries to protect themselves against the unwanted invasion of GE crops and the risks that they bring to the environment and health. Please visit our Genetic Engineering webpage to learn more.

Source: Associated Press

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

 

 

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One Response to “Federal Judge Overturns Maui GE Crop Moratorium”

  1. 1
    Rosa Muzo Says:

    First of all we should protect the health of people, our environment and our ecology.Why the court will have to side with this multibillion dollar bio-agribusiness? Is that because they put so much money into lobbying for legislation that they can’t say No to this practice?? Is a global disgrace the toxic contamination of our soil and water spreading disease making us sick. We the people choose to say: Ban all the toxic chemicals used for farming. Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, BASF & Bayer are making profits killing everything they touch. Make our soil safe again. Also Ban GMOs.That make us sick!!!

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