Federal judge says Hawaii counties cannot establish GMO bans

Opponents of genetically modified organisms received a major blow Friday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Hawaii counties cannot enact their own bans on genetically engineered crops and pesticides.

A federal judge upheld lower court decisions that determined existing Hawaii state law prohibits counties from enacting their own regulations concerning agriculture.

The opinion for Alika Atay v. County of Maui states in part that the state “legislature intended to create an exclusive, uniform, and comprehensive state statutory scheme for potentially harmful plants. By banning commercialized GE plants, the Ordinance impermissibly intrudes into this ATAY V. COUNTY OF MAUI 43 area of exclusive State regulation and thus is beyond the County’s authority under HRS § 46-1.5(13) and preempted.”

The case stemmed from a decision by Maui voters to ban the cultivation and testing of GMO crops in 2014.

The opinion for Syngenta Seeds, Inc. v. County of Kauai says, “we find that the Hawaii Pesticides Law comprehensively regulates pesticides and creates a clear inference of legislative intent to preempt local regulations of pesticides. Accordingly, applying Hawaii’s comprehensive statutory scheme test, we hold that Ordinance 960’s pesticide provisions are impliedly preempted by Hawaii law and beyond the County’s power under HRS § 46-1.5(13).”

That case stemmed from the Kauai County Council’s passage of Ordinance 960 in 2013, which imposed pesticide notification requirements and mandated “pesticide buffer zones.”

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