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GMO battle shifts back to Big Island

August 26, 2014 - 7:54am

A federal judge who struck down Kauai County’s GMO and pesticide disclosure law will also decide the fate of Hawaii County’s ban on most genetically modified crops.

Anti-GMO activists pushed for both laws last year, and arguments that they are pre-empted by state and federal law proved to be enough to find Kauai County’s law invalid Monday.

Whether U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren decides the same is true for Hawaii County’s law remains to be seen, but GMO supporters said they found the ruling promising.

“We see that as a positive sign,” said Lorie Farrell, a coordinator for Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United. “We’re not exactly sure that it means for (Bill) 113 at this point. We are hopeful.”

Both sides may not have to wait long.

Kurren is scheduled to hear oral arguments on whether to dismiss or uphold the law Oct. 23.

Paul Achitoff, an attorney for Earthjustice who assisted Kauai County with its case, said he will also file a brief in defense of Hawaii County’s law in U.S. District Court. He said he wasn’t ready to speculate on the impact from Monday’s ruling.

“I’m still in the process of trying to answer that question for myself,” he said.

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Achitoff added.

While both laws deal with genetically modified crops, there are significant differences between them.

Kauai County’s law was directed at its seed companies, which grow and develop modified plants, and pesticides they use.

It required commercial agricultural companies to disclose information regarding the type and amount of restricted-use pesticides they purchase. The law also required seed companies on the island to implement buffer zones.

Its plaintiffs were DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, Agrigenetics and BASF.

Hawaii County’s law prohibits the open-air use and testing of GMO crops with exceptions for papaya and other growers who used them when the law went into effect in December.

In July, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura ruled the county could not disclose the identity and specific locations of GMO growers through the law’s registry for transgenic farmers.

Plaintiffs in that case include agricultural groups representing floralists, banana and papaya growers, and ranchers. The Biotechnology Industry Organization, and isle farmers and ranchers Richard Ha, Jason Moniz, Gordon Inouye and Eric Tanouye are also listed as plaintiffs.

They argue that the the ban is prohibited by state and federal law and is in contrary to the science of biotechnology.

In addition to Hawaii County, the Center for Food Safety and three Big Island organic farmers, who claim GMO agriculture threatens their operations, will also defend the law in court.

CFS, which helped defend Kauai County’s law, and the organic farmers sought to be intervenors in the case.

Kurren denied them that status but also said they could still participate in oral arguments and write a combined brief. Earthjustice is also assisting them in that effort.

Email Tom Callis at

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