WAILUKU » More than 600 jobs and millions of tax dollars could be lost if a moratorium on the cultivation of genetically engineered organisms passes, two Maui County seed companies say.
Monsanto has 540 employees on Maui and Molokai, The Maui News reported. Its county tax bill was $3.5 million last year. Dow AgroSciences affiliate Mycogen Seeds employs more than 90 people on Molokai.
A proposed ballot initiative calls for the suspension of all "genetically engineered operations and practices" in Maui County until companies prove the activity is safe.
The County Council has until Aug. 5 to adopt the proposal. The initiative will appear on the Nov. 4 general election ballot if the Council doesn’t adopt it.
Monsanto government affairs manager Carol Reimann said a ban could devastate the company’s operations and potentially lead to job losses.
The initiative was spearheaded by the nonprofit SHAKA Movement. SHAKA is an acronym for Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina.
"Are we always willing to trade off our health? Our lives? For low wages now?" said SHAKA official Mark Sheehan in an email.
Sheehan said the seed companies should find temporary work for their workers if the initiative is passed and studies are mandated. If studies show that their crops and chemicals used are harmless, "then no problem."
Opponents of the measure say pesticides used already are heavily regulated and that genetically modified crops have been a part of farming for years.
"The moratorium is making mountains out of molehills," Ken Findeisen of Hawaii Grower Products said Monday at a hearing held by the County Council’s Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.