Lawsuits Seeking to Overturn GMO Laws in Hawaii and Vermont

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In a 5 to 4 decision, Hawaii County Council voted on December 17 to appeal a decision by a U.S. Magistrate Judge who had ruled to protect Monsanto and GMO testing and production on the Big Island of Hawaii, reported the Hawaii Tribune Herald. Hawaii County voters in 2014 elected to ban the cultivation of GMOs on the island. The new ordinance prohibits growing GMO crops in open-air conditions, with some exceptions including GMO papaya.

Monsanto swiftly sued Hawaii County over the new law, and on November 27, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren moved to invalidate the GMO ban, saying that state law pre-empts county law on agricultural issues. Paul Achitoff, attorney for Earthjustice, disagreed, saying, “The Legislature never intended the existing state laws we have in Hawaii to govern genetically engineered crops.” Judge Kurran has a long history of ruling in favor of Monsanto and agribusiness, claims journalist Christina Sarich in a report in the Natural Society.

Based on the Hawaii Council’s vote, the issue will now be taken up by a higher court. “This is an important decision with far-reaching impact on home rule,” said Councilwoman Margaret Wille, author of the original bill limiting GMOs in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, in Maui County, proponents behind the passage on November 4 of a referendum placing a moratorium on GMO cultivation and experimentation on the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai have been given the “green light” to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed by Monsanto challenging the measure, reported Maui Now on December 16. Honolulu attorney Michael Carroll, representing the authors of the Maui GMO initiative, said the group won standing on Monday to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Monsanto, which seeks to delay enforcement of the measure and ultimately to have it declared unenforceable. Carroll is representing the SHAKA Movement and others who led the effort to suspend the cultivation and testing of GMO crops in Maui County until an environmental and public health study can show that they are safe.

“We look forward to advancing our position with the Federal Court in order to validate the ordinance that the majority of Maui voters passed into law in November,” Carroll told Maui Now. A federal judge will consider arguments on March 10, 2015, regarding whether to throw out Monsanto’s lawsuit challenging Maui County’s newly approved moratorium on cultivating genetically engineered crops, reported the Honolulu Civil Beat.

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In related news, in Vermont, oral arguments are tentatively set to begin in January 2015 regarding a lawsuit filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association to overturn Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law, passed by the state Legislature in May. Vermont's law doesn't go into effect until July 1, 2016, however, the GMA is asking the U.S. District Court in Vermont to grant a temporary injunction to prevent the state from moving forward with implementation of the law. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell's team, which includes high-powered Washington, D.C., law firm Robbins, Russell, will argue to dismiss the lawsuit.