A group of Maui County residents has collected enough valid signatures to put a temporary ban on genetically modified crops before voters this fall.

It’s the first time in the county’s history that residents have gathered enough support to put a citizens’ initiative on the ballot.

Maui County Clerk Danny Mateo said in a press release that the SHAKA Movement, the group behind the proposed moratorium, collected 9,062 valid signatures. That’s more than the required 20 percent of residents who voted in the last election in the county, which is made up of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

GMO fields on Molokai (NO TEXT)

An aerial view of Monsanto Company’s fields on Molokai, part of Maui County.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Joe Marshalla from the SHAKA Movement said that in total, the organization gathered more than 19,400 signatures.

“We are thrilled that the people now have a voice and have been heard. Just short of half of the people who cast votes in the last election really want to have an opportunity to vote and have their voice heard to make sure that what is happening in our county is safe,” Marshalla said.

If approved, the bill would ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops until the county conducts an environmental and health analysis of genetically modified organisms and pesticides. The bill would also require biotech companies to fund the study.

But passing the ban won’t happen without a fight. The world’s leading seed company Monsanto Company farms corn and soybeans on 3,000 acres in Maui County, and employs about 500 residents throughout the county. Another global seed company, Dow AgroSciences LLC, operates as Mycogen Seeds on Molokai.

Warren Watanabe, executive director of the Maui County Farm Bureau, and Ray Foster, president of the Molokai Farm Bureau, said in a statement that the initiative would be “devastating” for Maui County’s economy.

“It’s an anti-agriculture measure that jeopardizes hundreds of good ag jobs on Maui and Molokai, as well as the livelihoods of many others who do business with the Hawaii seed companies or benefit from their presence in Maui County,” they said.

The Maui County Council now has 60 days to consider whether to pass the proposal, or leave it up to voters. If council members decide not to do anything, the initiative will automatically be placed on the county’s general election ballot this year.

It’s unlikely the Council would directly approve the proposal. Council members still haven’t moved forward a bill modeled after a Kauai County law that would have required more disclosure from biotech companies, despite vocal public support for the measure.

The SHAKA Movement initially submitted 9,626 signatures, but Mateo said just 4,342 met the requirements. The group then began paying its supporters $5 per signature collected.

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