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Federal Court Overturns Big Island GMO Ban

November 21, 2016, 1:08 PM HST
* Updated November 21, 1:11 PM
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Big Island Now file photo. Nov. 2016

Big Island Now file photo. Nov. 2016

The Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 18 that Hawai‘i County laws banning genetically modified organisms are invalid, concluding that the state’s counties do not have the right to regulate agriculture.

The residents of Hawai‘i County voted for the ban in 2013 and Mayor Billy Kenoi signed it into law.

The federal rulings came down in lawsuits brought by pesticide and seed companies against Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i and Maui counties.

Hawai’i Alliance for Progressive Action Boardmember Malia Chun said, “As a mother and a resident of the west side of Kaua‘i, I will continue to stand up and protect my family and my community. It is our responsibility to insure that our keiki have access to clean air, clean water and ‘āina that sustains them.”

The rulings invalidate county ordinances that sought to enforce public health protections associated with what has been described as high volumes of pesticide use on experimental genetically engineered seed operations across the state.

On Kaua‘i, thousands of residents marched and testified in 2013 in support of Ordinance 960 (Bill 2491), which was enacted after the Kaua‘i County Council overturned Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s veto of the bill.

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Maui voters passed “the Maui Miracle” ballot initiative that placed a moratorium on open-air, experimental GE crops until a full environmental assessment was completed.

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“The public health concerns of the community have not gone away,” said Gary Hooser, HAPA president and Kaua‘i County councilmember who co-introduced Bill 2491 with Tim Bynum. “We tried at the county level to protect our communities. Now, the court rulings have clarified that this responsibility is on the state. We expect immediate action from both the State legislature and the governor to enact protections. All of the energy that went into passing these laws on the neighbor islands will now be united and directed to the state. People aren’t going to stop until our islands and the people are protected.”

The state-funded panel of experts known as the “Joint Fact Finding Group” recommend buffer zones, pesticide use disclosure and environmental and health testing after completing a year-long process.

The State Legislature has appropriated $500,000 to support further monitoring and testing, but further action is required to implement recommendations.

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Autumn Ness, community organizer and co-founder of Maui United, said, “Only government can regulate and enforce pesticide protection laws, and only the people can make government do that. We are encouraging people across the islands to contact their state representatives and the governor to demand the immediate implementation of the basic protections recommended by the state-funded JFFG report.”

The governor’s office can be reached at (808) 586-0034 or via email.

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