(AP) — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Maui County ban on the cultivation of genetically engineered crops is pre-empted by federal and state law and 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 ruling.
Maui County, which is a major center for research on genetically engineered crops, “will be abiding by the judge’s ruling,” 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 ruling 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,” Judge Mollway said.
Later Tuesday afternoon, the legal counsel for the Maui SHAKA Movement and the individual proponents of the Maui Ordinance said it intends to appeal Judge Mollway’s decision.
“The decision today not only ignores the will of the people, but places at risk all state and local regulations that seek to address the harmful impacts associated with GMO operations,” said attorney Michael C. Carroll. “The decision invalidates a local ordinance that sought to protect against serious harms caused by these practices. The decision ignores the harms to Maui county and the Hawaii Constitutional mandate placing obligations and duties on the counties to protect the natural environment.”
“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 Mark Sheehan, spokesperson for SHAKA. “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.”
According to Hawaii Pacific University professor John Hart, it comes down to whether legislators from Maui, Kauai and Hawaii County are willing to change the state law to fall in line with what their counties want.
“I think this is a decision where that might cause a lot of tension in a situation where you have a large amount of voters who don’t want it arguing against a wealthy corporation and industry that is willing clearly to put their money where their mouth is,” he said, “and I presume that includes campaign contributions.”
Maui voters earlier passed the ordinance when they approved a ballot initiative last November. The “yes” votes tallied 23,082 with the “no” votes at 22,005 — a margin of victory of a little more than 1,000 votes.
The measure imposes a moratorium on the growing of genetically engineered crops until scientific studies are conducted on their safety and benefits. The ordinance would only allow the moratorium to be lifted after a vote by the Maui County Council.
Hawaii’s year-round warm weather makes the islands a favorite research spot for companies that use genetic engineering to develop new types of corn and other crops. The weather allows researchers to grow more generations of crops and accelerate their development of new varieties.
Monsanto has two farms in Maui County, on Maui and Molokai islands. Agrigenetics, which does business as Mycogen Seeds, has a farm on Molokai.
There has been little scientific evidence to prove that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts. But fears persist in Hawaii and elsewhere. In the islands, these concerns are compounded by worries about the companies’ use of pesticides.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed to this report.