Tuesday | October 17, 2017
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County may get help in GMO lawsuit

The Center for Food Safety and Big Island organic farmers Rachel Laderman, Nancy Redfeather and Marilyn Howe are seeking to help Hawaii County defend its law restricting the use of genetically modified crops.

On Friday, the group and the isle residents filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the county in U.S. District Court in Honolulu. They are represented by attorneys with CFS and Earth Justice.

The law bans the open-air use and testing of modified crops with exceptions for farmers already growing them. It is being challenged in the federal court, and a hearing on a motion for summary judgment on behalf of the 10 plaintiffs is scheduled for Oct. 23.

The plaintiffs, which filed the lawsuit in June, include agricultural groups representing floralists, banana and papaya growers, and ranchers. The Biotechnology Industry Organization, and isle farmers and ranchers Richard Ha, Jason Moniz, Gordon Inouye and Eric Tanouye are also listed as plaintiffs.

They argue that the ban is prohibited by state and federal law, goes against the science of biotechnology and harms farmers who could benefit from modified crops.

In the lawsuit, they say the law is “backed by no findings or evidence that GE (genetically engineered) crops are in any way harmful, or in any way endanger the local environment.”

In defense of the law, the proposed intervenors argue the ban is needed to protect farmers who wish to grow non-modified crops from cross-pollination. The motion also questions federal regulation and oversight of modified plants.

“In Hawaii we believe that our seeds, crops, and foods should remain free of contamination from genetically engineered plants,” Redfeather said in a press release.

“Ordinance 13-121 protects me and farmers like me.”

CFS is a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, according to its website. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has an office in Honolulu.

CFS and Earth Justice are also helping Kauai County defend its law regarding GMO crops and use of pesticides.

According to their declarations filed with the court, Redfeather is a CFS member and owns the 1.5-acre Kawanui Farm in Kona, Howe owns the 2.5-acre Beach Road Farm in Pahoa, and Laderman uses about half of her 20-acre property in Hakalau for food production.

Each say GMO crops pose a threat to their operations.

Most commonly, plants have been modified to be resistant to herbicides or resistant to pests. Others, such as the Rainbow papaya used by isle farmers, are made resistant to plant viruses.

Virus-resistant anthurium, orchids, lettuce and bananas are currently under development in Hawaii.

The county’s law would prevent them from being grown outdoors unless the County Council provides an emergency exemption.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.


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