Maui County isn’t defending a moratorium on genetically modified farming despite more than 23,000 voters approving the bill last fall.

In a court filing Friday, the county said that it is taking “no position” on a motion for summary judgment filed by attorneys representing global seed companies Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, as well as several Maui County businesses and organizations.

The groups sued to overturn the moratorium, arguing that it would hurt the seed industry that employs hundreds of people in Maui County. The plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment asks the judge to rule that the ballot initiative is unlawful because it pre-empts federal and state law and violates county and state law.

Molokai Mycogen field workers pollinate corn on July 2, 2014.

A Molokai Mycogen Seeds field worker pollinates corn on July 2, 2014. The company is an affiliate of Dow AgroSciences.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Maui County officials had previously promised that the county would defend the bill, despite Mayor Alan Arakawa’s public disdain for it.

“We want to assure people that we’re taking this initiative very seriously,” said Managing Director Keith Regan in a statement after the moratorium was approved. “The people have spoken and the county is obligated to carry out their will.”

Several organizations, including the SHAKA Movement, Center for Food Safety, Maui United, Babes Against Biotech and the Coalition for a Safer Healthier Maui issued a statement on Friday saying that they are outraged by the county’s position.

“The people of Maui passed this law through the proper ballot initiative power; the county attorneys, as public servants, have a duty to defend it,” said George Kimbrell, attorney with Center for Food Safety, in a press release. “This is highly unusual and reveals the power the pesticide industry has on the island.”

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said that the outrage from the anti-GMO groups is misplaced. In December, the court allowed the SHAKA Movement to intervene to defend the moratorium and Antone said he has received personal phone calls from the group’s members saying that they don’t trust the county to defend the law and want to do so themselves.

“Now they’ve intervened, so isn’t this exactly what they want? They can defend it how they want,” Antone said, noting that allowing the SHAKA Movement to take the lead would save taxpayers money. “They can’t have it both ways and I’m tired of their double talk … They wanted to fight Monsanto and now they can.”

He added that the criticism is unwarranted. “They said that they don’t trust us, they don’t want us defending it and now they’re criticizing us for standing back,” he said.

Antone also said that despite its stance in court, the county is prepared to present a plan to the County Council on how to enforce the bill if the federal court rules that it’s legal. That’s unlikely, given previous rulings that Hawaii counties do not have the right to regulate agriculture.

Maui County voters approved the moratorium last November despite biotech companies and their allies raising nearly $8 million to oppose it. The moratorium seeks to suspend genetically modified farming until the county studies the public health and environmental impacts of it.

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