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Hawaii Council votes to appeal ruling striking down GMO law

    Monsanto worker Zenaida Arcala placed a pollination bag over a corn tassel in Kihei

KAILUA-KONA » Hawaii County plans to appeal a federal judge’s ruling invalidating a county law restricting genetically modified crops on the island.

The County Council voted 5-4 to appeal the ruling, West Hawaii Today reported Thursday.

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who authored the original bill limiting genetically modified organisms, said it’s an impor- tant decision affecting home rule.

"It’s not just about GMO," she said.

Puna Councilmen Greggor Ilagan and Danny Paleka joined Hilo Councilmen Dennis "Fresh" Onishi and Aaron Chung on the no votes. They cited concerns for local farmers and a reluctance to enter what could be lengthy litigation.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren invalidated the county law in a Nov. 27 order, saying state law pre-empts county law on the issue. He said lawmakers intended the state to have broad oversight of agricultural issues in Hawaii.

The vast majority of the dozens who spoke during more than six hours of testimony favored the appeal. Some held their children in their laps, others performed oli, or chants. The Council received a big stack of form letters from opponents, but little individual testimony.

Former Mayor Harry Kim said outside the meeting that he supports the GMO ban. Businesses have long claimed their products are safe but science later proves that not to be the case, he said. Cigarettes and food dyes are two examples, he added.

"We need to do our homework," Kim said. "It’s for our children and what we do to this earth, which is forever."

Scientists at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Manoa opposed an appeal.

"This was a misguided bill to begin with. It banned transgenic crops regardless of the transgenic trait as if traits don’t matter," said Michael Shintaku, UH-Hilo professor of plant pathology. "Transgenic crops should … be evaluated for safety, and on a case-by-case basis. … Banning them because they arose from a common technology is just silly."

The county ordinance bans growing GMO crops in open-air conditions. It makes exceptions for papaya and corn already growing on the island, as well as scientific study in greenhouses and other enclosed settings.

Kauai is appealing a similar ruling made by Kurren invalidating a Kauai County law regulating GMO crops and pesticide use. Companies researching GMO crops on Maui and Molokai have filed a federal lawsuit challenging a new Maui County law banning GMO crops.

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