Several Big Island farmers and flower growers, along with a national trade organization representing the biotech industry, have filed a lawsuit challenging Hawaii County’s ban on genetically modified farming.
The lawsuit comes less than a week after it was announced that Maui County residents had collected enough signatures to place a temporary moratorium on genetically modified agriculture on the ballot this year, part of a broader backlash against genetically modified farming throughout the state.
Hawaii County passed Bill 113 last year prohibiting genetically engineered farming, with the exception of existing crops such as papayas.
A papaya tree on the Big Island.
Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat
“The prohibition of open air cultivation, propagation, development or testing of genetically engineered crops and plants is intended to prevent the transfer and uncontrolled spread of genetically engineered organisms on to private property, public lands and waterways,” the ordinance says.
The lawsuit filed Monday contends that Bill 113 is backed by no scientific evidence and that genetically modified farming has become a “critical and generally accepted part of agriculture” over the last 20 years. The complaint says that the ordinance violates both state and federal law.
“Bill 113 imposes extreme burdens on Plaintiffs and cripples County farmers’ current and future ability to farm GE crops with no corresponding local benefit,” the lawsuit says.
Molly Stebins, attorney for Hawaii County, said Tuesday morning that the county is still in the process of reviewing the complaint.
The plaintiffs include Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, Big Island Banana Growers Association, Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council, Pacific Floral Exchange, as well as individual farmers and florists such as Richard Ha, Jason Moniz, Gordon Inouye and Eric Tanouye.
The lawsuit says Bill 113 threatens Inouye and Tanouye’s ability to grow orchids and subjects them to fines of $1,000 a day.
Monday’s complaint is the second lawsuit challenging Bill 113. An unnamed papaya grower sued the county in March, contending that the ordinance’s registration requirements unfairly target papaya growers.
Several biotech companies are also suing Kauai County over a bill passed last year that requires more disclosure about pesticide use and genetically modified farming.