BREAKING: Federal Judge Rules Maui GMO Initiative Invalid

June 30, 2015, 2:45 PM HST · Updated July 1, 5:54 AM
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Maui Now Graphic. Background image: More than 1,000 marchers participated in an Anti-GMO event on Sunday, March 30, 2014. File photo by Rodney S. Yap.

Maui Now Graphic. Background image: More than 1,000 marchers participated in an Anti-GMO event on Sunday, March 30, 2014. File photo by Rodney S. Yap.

By Wendy Osher

A federal judge today ruled that the Maui GMO Initiative passed by Maui voters in November 2014 is invalid because the county does not have the authority over the matter.  The order states that the County of Maui GMO ordinance is preempted and exceeds the county’s authority to impose fines.

Judge Susan Oki Mollway issued the ruling in the Robert Ito Farm, Inc. vs. County of Maui case.

The ballot initiative sought to prohibit 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.

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Maui County communications director Rod Antone responded to our request for comment today saying, “Maui County will abide by Judge Mollway’s ruling.”

John P. Purcell, PhD Vice President for Monsanto Hawaiʻi Business and Technology responded to our request for comment saying, “We’re proud to be part of Hawaiʻi’s agricultural community, and look forward to continuing to support the communities in Maui, Molokaʻi and Oʻahu where our nearly 1,000 local employees live and work. We’re listening and we’ve heard the concerns some people have about GMOs and today’s farming practices.  Our commitment to ongoing dialogue with our neighbors doesn’t stop today. We understand the responsibility we have to farm sustainably and to work collaboratively, and we welcome the opportunity to continue having conversations with members of the community.”

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that, “the ordinance would only allow the moratorium to be lifted after a vote by the Maui County Council.”

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Residents Dr. Lorrin Pang, Mark Sheehan, Leiʻohu Ryder, Bonnie Marsh, Alika Atay, and the SHAKA Movement were initial parties that filed the petition on Maui seeking implementation of a moratorium on GMO crops.

The group asked the federal court to “abstain from resolving the important state issues that directly impact the county’s ability to protect its natural environment and avoid irreparable harm to public trust resources,” according to an earlier statement issued by their attorney.

On November 4th, Maui voters approved the voter initiative to temporarily suspend the growth, testing, or cultivation of genetically engineered crops in Maui until an environmental and public health study can show that they are safe.

Soon after proponents and opponents alike took the matter to the courts with initiative backers filing a lawsuit in Second Circuit court seeking “declaratory relief to assure transparency and the proper implementation,” of the newly passed initiative; and Monsanto executives filing a federal lawsuit seeking to delay any enforcement of the measure and ultimately to have it declared unenforceable.

The court notes that, on June 8, 2015, SHAKA filed a motion in the Robert Ito Farm Action, seeking to be allowed to cross-claim against the County of Maui to force it to certify the election results and implement the Ordinance. Because the court has determined that the Ordinance is unenforceable, Judge Mollway said the court denies that motion.

Initiative supporters plan to stage a rally early Wednesday morning at 5:30 a.m., July 1, fronting the Monsanto facility at the intersection of the Mokulele and Piʻilani Highways in North Kīhei.  Click here for the Live Stream link provided by event organizers.

The group plans to unite to tell Monsanto to drop the lawsuit.  The event, hosted by Maui residents Autumn Rae Ness and Deb Mader Creagh is part of an organized campaign that includes radio ads that begin tomorrow, a social media blitz, and letters to editors of newspapers pressuring Monsanto and Dow to drop their lawsuit.

The group GMO Free Maui issued a statement this afternoon saying, “Monsanto and Dow spent record-breaking amounts of money in a deceptive “Vote No” campaign last election.  Maui voted yes anyway, and instead of respecting the basic democratic process and complying with our vote, Monsanto and Dow sued us.  Monsanto then launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign telling Hawaiʻi what great community members they are.”

“We aren’t buying it.” said Autumn Ness of GMO Free Maui.  “Good members of the community would respect the democratic process and uphold our vote.  Drop your lawsuit, Monsanto and Dow.  Immediately halt GMO crop production, and do the safety studies,” said Ness.

Mark Sheehan of the SHAKA movement issued a statement saying, “The judge’s ruling has invalidated the constitutional right of 23,000 voters on Maui.  Our attorneys are seeking justice through appeals.”

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