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Maui County residents who have been waiting for a moratorium on genetically engineered farming to go into effect may finally have an answer by the end of this month.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Susan Mollway announced during a hearing Monday that she plans to issue a decision on the contested ballot initiative within the next two weeks.
Advocates for the measure aren’t optimistic about their chances.
“I don’t know if this is quotable, but it sucked,” Mark Sheehan, a member of the SHAKA Movement, said of Monday’s hearing.
Anti-GMO demonstrators hold signs at the Hawaii State Capitol building on opening day of the 2015 legislative session.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The SHAKA Movement is the grassroots organization that advocated to get the moratorium approved last fall despite Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences spending over $7 million to defeat the initiative.
The bill hasn’t gone into effect due to a legal challenge from biotech companies and local businesses who argue that federal, state and county laws preempt the ordinance. The SHAKA Movement filed a separate case seeking to force the county to enforce the bill. Monday’s hearing dealt with both cases.
Observers said Mollway spent much of the hearing grilling Michael Carroll, the attorney representing the SHAKA Movement, about whether the county has the authority to regulate agriculture.
Within the past year, another federal judge, Barry Kurren, has struck down Kauai County and Hawaii Countys attempts to regulate pesticide use and genetically modified farming. Kurren ruled that state law doesn’t give counties that authority.
“I’m optimistic that if we don’t win at the district court level then we’ll win on appeal,” Carroll said in a phone interview after the hearing.
Former Hawaii attorney general Margery Bronster and attorney Philip Perry from Washington, D.C., presented arguments for the plaintiffs. The attorneys and a Monsanto spokeswoman did not reply to requests for comment Monday.
To learn more about the legal arguments, read the briefs below: