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Maui group gathers signatures for GMO initiative


WAILUKU >> A Maui group says it has submitted more than 9,500 signatures in support of a temporary ban on growing or testing genetically modified organisms in Maui County.

The measure will be heard by the Maui County Council if the group, the Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina Movement, has been found to have gathered at least 8,500 valid signatures.

The council may choose to either sign the moratorium into law or decide to take no action, The Maui News reported. If the council takes no action, the public will vote on the item in the Nov. 4 general election.

The moratorium would make it illegal to cultivate, grow or test genetically modified crops in Maui County until companies complete environmental and public health studies finding their practices to be safe.

In November, Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa signed a memorandum of understanding with Monsanto Co., a global agricultural company that grows genetically engineered crops in the county. The agreement requires the company to disclose its use of restricted-use pesticides, but some residents say this isn’t enough.

“We feel the future of the island has been compromised by the massive use of millions of pounds of pesticides over decades,” said Mark Sheehan, one of five residents who crafted and filed the moratorium ordinance. “Monsanto uses hundreds of combinations of pesticides which they do not disclose, and we don’t just want disclosure, we want them to prove they are safe.”

Monsanto owns about 3,000 acres on Maui and Molokai, and employs about 500 workers in the county. It’s also the largest employer on Molokai, which for years has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

Dawn Bicoy, the Molokai community affairs manager for Monsanto, said the company will oppose what she called a “terrible initiative.” It would result in significant revenue loss for seed companies and other businesses.

“We, along with our community, will be mounting an aggressive campaign against this initiative that would devastate our county’s fragile agricultural economy,” Bicoy said.

In the past year, Kauai County adopted legislation requiring large farms to disclose their use of pesticides and establish buffer zones around crops. Hawaii County has adopted restrictions on the planting of genetically modified crops.

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