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Global seed companies Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences promised litigation after Maui County residents approved a voter initiative to ban on genetically modified crops on Election Day, but five residents have beaten them to the punch.
Maui County residents Dr. Lorrin Pang, Mark Sheehan, Lei’ohu Ryder, Bonnie Marsh and Alika Atay filed a lawsuit Wednesday in state court against the county, Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences seeking more influence on how the law is implemented and aiming to resolve the issue of whether the law is enforceable.
The nonprofit organization behind the moratorium, called the SHAKA Movement, is also a plaintiff in the case.
A Molokai Mycogen Seeds field worker pollinates corn on July 2, 2014. The company is an affiliate of Dow AgroSciences.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
The complaint states:
“Plaintiffs bring this action seeking declaratory relief against Defendants in order to (1) assure that the GMO Bill is timely and properly implemented and to be able to assist and participate in the County’s implementation of the GMO Bill, including being consulted by the County with respect to the GMO Bill’s implementation; and (2) resolve the claims that the GMO bill is not legal and enforceable, as there is an actual controversy and threat of imminent and inevitable litigation regarding this issue.”
The plaintiffs are asking the court to order Maui County to adequately fund the implementation of the moratorium, provide regular updates to the community on its implementation, and consult with the plaintiffs on the ban’s enforcement.
The ban on genetically engineered farming narrowly passed on Election Day despite the biotech industry raising nearly $8 million to defeat it and spending more than $1.3 million in TV ads warning of potential economic ruin if the ban passed.
The moratorium is only supposed to remain in effect until the county analyzes the public health and environmental effects of genetically modified farming and the County Council deems the practice to be safe. Penalties for growing GMO crops in the meantime range from $10,000 to $50,000 per day.
County officials are still in the process of determining how the moratorium will be enforced. Mayor Alan Arakawa previously criticized the bill as impractical.
Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said officials have been meeting for months to figure out how to implement the law, and that it will go into effect once election results are certified.
As for the lawsuit, Antone said: “We haven’t been served, we haven’t even read it, besides on Civil Beat.”
Monsanto spokeswoman Carol Reimann said in a statement Thursday that the company will probably seek to dismiss the case.
“While we are continuing to review the action filed yesterday, it appears this suit is inappropriate for the courts to decide as it seeks remedies that courts cannot provide. It is very likely we will promptly move to dismiss it. The legal validity of the ordinance under existing state and federal laws is the real issue; and that issue will be decided by a federal court in a different suit that actually reviews the merits of the ordinance,” she said.
Dow AgroSciences spokeswoman Robyn Heine said the company is aware of the lawsuit, but couldn’t say much more.
“We have not received service of process of the case, so we cannot comment further about this matter at this time,” she said. “Dow AgroSciences is confident in the safety of our farming operations on Maui County, and we believe that the ban would be illegal.”