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Growers, ranchers challenge Hawaii County's GMO law

By Rob Shikina

LAST UPDATED: 9:33 p.m. HST, Jun 10, 2014

Farmers, ranchers, and flower growers sued Hawaii County in federal court Monday over a county law banning genetically engineered crops.

The suit claims the law violates the U.S. and Hawaii constitutions and seeks a court order invalidating it.

Plaintiffs of the lawsuit include Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, Big Island Banana Growers Association, Hawaii Cattlemen's Council, and Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Bill 113, which took effect in December, restricts the planting of genetically modified organisms to enclosed structures like greenhouses, but creates an exemption for papayas and other GMO crops already grown on the island.

In March, a Hilo Circuit judge granted a temporary restraining order against part of the law, preventing the county from enforcing the law's registration requirements. An anonymous papaya farmer who sued for the temporary restraining order argued that the requirement could lead to backlash from anti-GMO activists and having trade secrets stolen after confidential information is released under the law.

Plaintiffs in the latest suit claim the law prevents the testing of orchids, anthuriums, papayas and bananas that are resistant to pests that could cause havoc in those industries. Cattle farmers argue in the suit that the law prevents them from using genetically modified crops as animal feed.

Margery Bronster, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, is also seeking to upend Kauai's anti-GMO law, which restricts pesticides and genetically modified crops.

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