Video by David Corrigan. Sherry Bracken contributed to this report

HILO, Hawaii – A Hilo court judge has ordered a temporary halt to GMO crop registration in Hawaii County.

On Friday, Third Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura granted a temporary restraining order as requested by unnamed “John Doe”. Hawaii Papaya Industry Association president and farmer Ross Sibucao has since been added as a plaintiff.

Outside Hilo courthouse after judge grants TRO on GMO registration on the Big Island

Outside Hilo courthouse after judge grants TRO on GMO registration on the Big Island

Last year Hawaii County passed and signed Bill 113 in law, banning genetically engineered crops from being grown on the Big Island. Already established GMO crops like papaya and corn were grandfathered in, however farmers growing such crops had until the end of March 5 to register their GMO crops with the county. Some papaya farmers resisted, saying that disclosure of the information could jeopardize their operation. A handful of papaya farms have suffered major vandalism over the past few years. All were GMO crops, however there was never any proof to suggest the acts were motivated by anti-GMO sentiments.

Representing the plaintiffs, Honolulu based attorney Margery Bronster addressed the court via telephone. Bronster was out of the country at the time. She argued that Bill 113 violates – and is preempted by – state law. Bronster cited the trade secrets act, rule 91, and the small business act, saying each is a law the county may not change.

Although Corporation Counsel Mike Udovic told the court that the county is opposed to a temporary restraining order, the TRO was granted by Judge Nakamura effective from the date of the March 6 court hearing.

We caught up with some of those following the case outside the Hale Kaulike courthouse afterwards.

Geoff RauchGeoff Rauch

“It’s very disappointing, for sure. We did a lot of work to get it where it is and to see them chip away at it like this is… basically unfair. But we’re committed and its gonna change and people are getting it more and more. And this is to be expected.”

Richard HaRichard Ha

“I just came to support the papaya farmers. But I gotta tell you this: I’m real concerned about (councilwoman) Margaret Wille’s words. She said they were whiners. And I dont think that’s fair.”

Naomi CarmonaNaomi Carmona

“They were counting on preemption (of county laws at the state legislature) by (Senator) Clarence Nishihara and Senator Rosalyn Baker. But ultimately, this is the best they got. An anonymous John Doe lawsuit.

Let’s get real here. John Doe is the head of a pro-GMO papaya association using a top attorney hired by chemical companies to fight pesticide buffer zones. I wonder whose paying for the lawsuit? Whose paying for Margery Bronster?”

The parties will return to the court for a pre hearing on Thursday, March 20th at 9:00 a.m., and then there will be a full hearing on Monday, March 24 at 10 a.m.


November 19, 2013 – Hawaii County Council passes bill 113, banning new GMOs from the Big Island. Transgenic papaya and corn grown for dairy cows are exempt, but are required to register their crops with the county.

LINK: VIDEO: Hawaii County Council final reading on GMO bill 113

December 5, 2013 – Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi ends weeks of speculation by signing into law the controversial genetically modified organisms prohibition bill.

Billy KenoiMayor Billy Kenoi, Dec. 5, 2013

“Our community has a deep connection and respect for our land, and we all understand we must protect our island and preserve our precious natural resources. We are determined to do what is right for the land because this place is unlike any other in the world. With this new ordinance we are conveying that instead of global agribusiness corporations, we want to encourage and support community-based farming and ranching.”

LINK: Mayor signs GMO bill 113 into law

January 17, 2014 – As required by the newly adopted Chapter 14, Article 22, Section 14-133 of the Hawaii County Code, all commercial farmers “who grow and sell agricultural products including organic, conventional and genetically modified crops” are invited to complete a new county agricultural registration form.

The department plans to use the new registration program to identify the crops being grown, the locations of those farming activities, and the owners of the lands that are being farmed. It will help the county to accurately inventory all commercial farming activities to help assess the strengths and needs of the agricultural community, and to identify areas where additional federal, state or county investment may be necessary to assist farmers.

There is no cost for registration. The new ordinance establishes a $100 registration fee for genetically modified crops, but the county is waiving all fees for all farmers who register.Hawaii County media release, Jan. 17, 2014

Producers of genetically modified crops must register by March 5, 2014.