Federal Court Blocks Hawaii GMO Bans

Published December 26, 2016

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked three measures, from counties on Kauai, Hawaii Island, and Maui, that would have banned or placed a moratorium on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in crops and seeds, ruling they were pre-empted by Hawaiian state and federal law. One of the efforts overturned by the court’s action was a moratorium on GMO crops narrowly adopted by a Maui County citizens’ initiative.

In the ruling issued November 18, Judge Consuelo Callahan, writing for the court, said a federal court in Hawaii had correctly determined the counties’ laws are superseded by state law regulating potentially harmful plants.

“We conclude that the Legislature intended to create an exclusive, uniform and comprehensive state statutory schedule for potentially harmful plants,” Callahan wrote. “By banning commercialized GE plants, the ordinance impermissibly intrudes into this area of exclusive state regulation and thus is beyond the county’s authority.” Judges Sidney Thomas and Mary Murguia joined Callahan’s opinion.

The moratoria blocked by the court outlawed the cultivation, growth or testing of genetically engineered crops until scientific studies determined their safety and benefits.

Farmers, Businesses Cheer Ruling

The activists who pushed the various GMO bans, and the county governments who enacted them, have indicated they do not plan to appeal the ruling, effectively ending local efforts to block GMO seed and crop use in Hawaii.

As reported in the Maui News, Chris Mebille, vice president for Makoa Trucking and Services of Molokai, one of the companies that challenged the moratorium, said: “We are elated with the court’s ruling. Had it been allowed to stand, the GMO moratorium in Maui County would’ve done great harm to not only our local farmers, but our local businesses, their families and our entire community.”

Mark Wond, of Friendly Isle Auto Parts of Kaunakakai, who also challenged the local GMO bans, also expressed thanks for the ruling, telling the Maui News,  he hoped it would “clear away some of the negative and unsubstantiated claims of GMOs and farming.”

“As a business, this means we can feel confident in investing more into our community,” Wond said.

Other defendants in the case included, the Molokai Chamber of Commerce and Concerned Citizens of Molokai and Maui according to the Maui News. Robert Stephenson, president of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce and director of Concerned Citizens of Molokai and Maui, said “the court’s ruling had made it clear that the Maui County GMO moratorium was illegal and should never have passed.”

“This is a positive ruling for all our local farmers, all agriculture in Hawaii, but most importantly for our local businesses here on Molokai, where the seed industry is a welcomed and stable part of our Molokai economy,” Stephenson told the Maui News.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.