Earlier today, a federal court declared the Maui County initiative seeking to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops on Maui, Molokai and Lanai invalid.
The county’s ordinance creating the prohibition exceeded the county’s authority, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway said in her order.
The county, which is a major center for research on genetically engineered crops, will abide by the decision, spokesman Rod Antone said. Monsanto Co. and Dow Chemical Co. unit Agrigenetics Inc. both have research farms in the county.
The judge stressed that her order addresses only the legal question of county authority. “No portion of this ruling says anything about whether GE organisms are good or bad or about whether the court thinks the substance of the ordinance would be beneficial to the county,” she said.
A Monsanto spokesperson on Maui said, “We are very pleased with the court’s decision holding that the Maui referendum is contrary to federal and state laws. If the referendum was implemented, it would have placed an immediate and essentially permanent ban on long-standing farming operations in Maui County. It would have endangered hundreds of local jobs and eliminated beneficial options for farmers, such as the science of genetic engineering which led to development of the Rainbow papaya. We greatly appreciate the tremendous passion and hard work of the thousands of local residents and members of the agricultural community who recognized the problematic nature of this flawed initiative.”
The group GMO Free Maui, issued an immediate response. Autum Ness released the following synopsis: “In the wake of the latest decision in the Monsanto vs. Maui case, a coalition of Maui voters have launched a campaign demanding that Monsanto and Dow respect their vote and drop their lawsuit against Maui. In her decision released today, Judge Mollway struck down the GMO Moratorium approved by voters in last November’s election. Appealing the decision to a higher court is estimated to take about a year, during which Monsanto and Dow are not legally required to comply with the voter-approved Moratorium on GMO crops.
“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 Hawaii 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.”
Mark Sheehan, one of five citizens who sponsored the ballot initiative, said his group will appeal the order. He expressed disappointment that Mollway ruled on what he called procedural issues instead of addressing the substance of their argument.
“The ordinance was specifically written to address issues not found in state statute,” he said. “Further, the law requires the county to protect the health of the environment and the public,” said Sheehan, who is a member of the group Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina Movement, or SHAKA.
Sam Small, a SHAKA spokesman, sent an email blast with a Facebook post saying, “Please join us tomorrow JULY 1 sunrise to sunset for a direct conversation with Monsanto asking them to drop their lawsuit and stop chemical and gmo testing. Meeting in North Kihei, where Mokulele Highway meets Piilani Highway.” He added that gathering time is 5:30 a.m. Sunrise on July 1 on Maui is at 5:48 a.m.
(Audry McAvoy, ABC and AP contributed to this post)