National nonprofits Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety, along with Big Island farmers Nancy Redfeather, Marilyn Howe and Rachel Laderman, have filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit that challenges Hawaii County’s moratorium on growing new genetically engineered crops.

“Hawaii County, like every county, has the right to protect its farmers and native environments from genetically engineered crops,” said Center for Food Safety attorney George Kimbrell in a press release. “Having GE-free zones is critical for the sustainable future of U.S. agriculture, and to protect Hawaii’s unique ecosystems.”

Hawaii County passed Bill 113, now Ordinance 13-121, last year banning farmers from cultivating any new kinds of genetically modified crops. The ordinance was intended to prevent biotechnology firms that operate on Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Oahu from setting up shop on the Big Island. The ban exempts existing genetically modified crops such as papayas.

papaya trees

Papaya trees on the Big Island

Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

Several local farmers and a national trade group for biotechnology firms, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, filed a lawsuit in early June challenging the law. The plaintiffs argued that the ordinance violates state and federal laws, and that it’s not backed by scientific evidence.

“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 plaintiffs argued.

In a separate case challenging Bill 113 brought by an unnamed papaya farmer, a Hawaii County judge ruled on July 9 that papaya farmers must comply with the ordinance’s requirement to register with the county, but that their names and locations must be kept confidential.

The Hawaii County ordinance is just one of several ongoing conflicts between the biotechnology industry and Hawaii residents who fear the environmental and health impacts of genetic engineering in farming.

The Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice are already helping to defend Kauai County against a lawsuit challenging an ordinance that imposes buffer zones for pesticide spraying and requires more disclosure of pesticide use and genetic engineering practices.

A federal judge heard arguments last week in the Kauai County case and is likely to rule on the question of whether or not counties have the right to regulate pesticide use.

Meanwhile, on Maui County, residents have gathered enough signatures to put a voter initiative banning genetically modified farming on the ballot in November. The bill would affect biotechnology firms Monsanto Company and Mycogen Seeds, a subsidiary of Dow AgroSciences.

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