We could know by the end of the month the fate of Maui County’s voter-approved moratorium on the farming of genetically modified organisms.
The initiative has been stalled in federal court after Monsanto and other groups filed a lawsuit to challenge it.
Both sides argued their case before a judge Monday.
Attorneys say the conflict doesn’t focus on whether or not GMOs are harmful, but rather, whether the county has the right to create legislation that would supercede state or federal law when it comes to testing for GMOs.
“The critical question is who can regulate in this area and we believe that the county may not do so,” said Marjorie Bronster, the plaintiff’s attorney. “It is for the state or the federal government to regulate, and they have been regulating in this area.”
“From my perspective, what we are arguing today is whether the county has the ability to regulate and protect against harms related to GMO activities and whether that is excluded or prevented by the federal or state government,” said Michael Carroll, who represents the ballot initiative’s authors. “We believe that federal and state law authorizes Maui County to do so. There are specific provisions in the Hawaii constitution and the… Hawaii Revised Statutes that authorize it.”
Last November, Maui voters approved an initiative that would have placed a moratorium on growing, reproducing or testing genetically modified crops until an environmental public health study is completed:
“Should the proposed initiative prohibiting the cultivation or reproduction of genetically engineered organisms within the County of Maui, which may be amended or repealed as to a specific person or entity when required environmental and public health impact studies, public hearings, a two thirds vote and a determination by the County Council that such operation or practice meets certain standards, and which establishes civil and criminal penalties, be adopted for Maui County?”
Supporters of the testing say federal and state standards are insufficient.
“For example, glyphosates, which the World Health Organization has just announced as a probable carcinogen. They find that in the environment throughout Maui. There’s no benchmarks determining what is a safe amount of glyphosate. There’s no prohibitions, there’s no regulations with that on the federal and state levels,” Carroll said. “One of the inspectors that works for the Hawaii Department of Health did go and collect samples and found glyphosates in basically every sample and did not know what it meant, did not know what to do with the information.”
Judge Susan Oki Mollway said she hopes to decide soon whether Maui has the right to move forward with the studies or whether the county overstepped its boundaries.