Judge: Farmer must ID himself in GMO case


A Big Island papaya farmer will have to identify himself to continue as part of a lawsuit against Hawaii County’s registration program for genetically modified crops, Judge Greg Nakamura said Thursday.

The anonymous farmer initiated the legal challenge in Hilo Circuit Court in March. If he chooses to remain anonymous, the lawsuit can still continue with Hawaii Papaya Industry Association President Ross Sibucao as a plaintiff.

Sibucao joined the lawsuit shortly after it was filed.

Honolulu attorney Margery Bronster, representing the plaintiffs, declined to identify the farmer following the hearing, adding that decision is up to him.

“The case will proceed” either way, she said.

Sibucao and the anonymous farmer, referred to as “John Doe” in legal documents, are seeking relief from the registration program for genetically modified organisms, arguing identifying farmers by name or location could cause them harm.

The registry is part of the county’s ban on the use and testing of transgenic crops in an open-air environment. Papaya farmers, who already largely grow varieties modified to be resistant to the ringspot virus, are exempted.

They still must provide information to the county about their operations, including a detailed description of the location of transgenic crops, application of pesticides and types of crops used.

Bronster, a former state attorney general, argues this leads to the release of proprietary information and could make farmers targets.

Nakamura granted a temporary restraining order against the registration program last month. The plaintiffs are seeking to make that order permanent.

The program allows the county to keep some information confidential if releasing it to the public hinders its ability to obtain accurate data. Bronster said that is insufficient without rules on what could be released or kept private.

County Deputy Corporation Counsel Laureen Martin said the plaintiffs cannot prove disclosure of information would cause them harm.

“Ross’ name is out there,” she said. “There is no evidence he would suffer any harm.”

Bronster again raised the issue of vandalism in court Thursday, saying she received information on an additional 12 cases of damaged crops from police.

Martin said it’s “just as likely, if not more likely, it was a business competitor that did that.”

Whether caused by anti-GMO activists or someone else, Bronster said release of the information still increases risks for farmers.

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

 

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