Federal judge rules Big Island GMO law invalid, pre-empted by state, federal law

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HONOLULU — A Hawaii County law restricting genetically engineered crops is invalid, a federal judge said in an order issued Wednesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren's decision is similar to his earlier ruling invalidating Kauai County's law on pesticides and genetically modified crops. He's the same magistrate judge who is handling a lawsuit against Maui County's new law banning the cultivation of genetically modified organisms.

The Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, Big Island Banana Growers Association, Hawaii Cattlemen's Council, Pacific Floral Exchange, Biotechnology Industry Organization and various farmers sued to invalidate the ordinance that went into effect in December banning new cultivation of any genetically modified crops and testing of GMO crops unless in enclosed spaces such as greenhouses. The ordinance allowed for exemptions for papayas.

"This is something to be thankful for," one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Margery Bronster, said of the ruling coming out the day before Thanksgiving. "This is really important to some of the farmers. It has a big impact on their lives and their livelihoods."

The lawsuit argued that some of the law's effects would include blocking flower-growers seeking a genetically-engineered variety of anthurium that would withstand plant pests and cattlemen who want to grow GMO feed to avoid having to send cattle to the mainland for fattening up before slaughter.

"The judge's decision today recognizes the importance of diverse, modern agricultural practices in Hawaii," Bennette Misalucha, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, said in a statement. "All forms of modern agriculture are critical to preserving our links to our past heritage while moving the industry forward. We believe any laws governing agriculture should remain at the state level for consistency."

Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Molly Stebbins said the decision is disappointing but not surprising given the Kauai ruling. The county is evaluating whether to appeal, Stebbins said.

Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff, who represents the Center for Food Safety and organic farmers, criticized the judge's ruling.

"We believe he was wrong in the Kauai case, and he's equally wrong in this case," Achitoff said. The Kauai case is before the 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals.


Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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