(ABOVE PHOTO) File image taken outside U.S. District Court in Honolulu.
- A U.S. District Court has ruled in favor of a group of plaintiffs seeking to invalidate Hawaii County Ordinance 13-121 (Bill 113 passed in 2013 by the County Council and signed into law by Mayor Billy Kenoi). The law restricts the cultivation of new Genetically Modified Organisms on Hawaii Island. The plaintiffs in the case against the county are Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, Big Island Banana Growers Association, Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council, Inc., Pacific Floral Exchange, Inc., Biotechnology Industry Organization, Richard Ha, Jason Moniz, Gordon Inouye, and Eric Tanouye.
- U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren ruled in favor of two plaintiff claims. Kurren agreed that the county ordinance is expressly preempted by federal law, citing the federal Plant Protection Act, “but only to the extent that express federal preemption applies to the Ordinance’s ban on field testing of genetically engineered plants that are ‘plant pests’ or ‘noxious weeds'”. The Court did not to find that the GMO ban “is impliedly preempted” by federal law. The judge also agreed that a state preemption applies.
- Judge Barry Kurren’s ruling “enjoins the the County from further implementing or enforcing Ordinance 13-121”.
The ruling comes as no surprise, considering Judge Barry Kurren ruled in a similar fashion on a Kauai County law on pesticides and genetically modified crops. He will also decide the fate of Maui’s new moratorium on GMO farming, in a lawsuit brought to federal court by Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences.
RECENT RELATED VIDEO
A recent discussion on home rule, GMOs, and preemption at a Hawaii County Council committee meeting suddenly has new relevance. Perhaps sensing the law was going to be nullified by the federal court, councilmembers on November 18 asked Puna’s State Senator Russell Ruderman – who often opposes the biotech industry – what can be done to empower home rule at the county level. Ruderman will chair the State Senate Committee on Agriculture this session.
The tables have turned for all who were involved in the debate over Bill 113 last year, which was passed by the Hawaii County Council nearly a year ago today. These next three videos were recorded the day of the big decision, which was months in the making.
The discussion began in the summer of that year. Hundreds came out to testify.
The community was divided as the bill made its way through numerous committee and council hearings. Although their transgenic crop was grandfathered in, the papaya industry joined other large farmers in opposing the bill.
Anti-GMO advocates celebrated when Mayor Billy Kenoi signed the bill into law in December. The story on Big Island Video News, a simple media release from the mayor’s office, became one of the most viewed pages in the history of the website, eliciting comments from around the world.
However, the new year brought a challenge to the law in the form of a lawsuit.
When U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren – the same judge who today enjoined the Hawaii County law – ruled in August that Kauai County’s Ordinance 960 was invalid, the writing was on the wall for how the Hawaii County lawsuit would be decided. Kauai’s law would have required large agricultural operations to disclose pesticide use and identify GMO crops. It was also passed in November 2013.