A federal appeals court effectively killed Maui’s voter-approved moratorium on use of genetically engineered crops on Friday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Hawaii federal judge’s ruling that the Maui County GE ban is superseded by state law regulation of potentially harmful plants and to a lesser extent by federal regulators.
The ballot initiative, passed in November 2014, sought to prohibit the growth, testing or cultivation of genetically engineered crops in Maui until an environmental and public health study could show the use of GE crops was safe.
“We conclude that the Legislature intended to create an exclusive, uniform and comprehensive state statutory schedule for potentially harmful plants,” wrote Judge Consuelo Callahan for the panel.
“By banning commercialized GE plants, the ordinance impermissibly intrudes into this area of exclusive state regulation and thus is beyond the county’s authority,” she said.
Callahan cited GE crops as playing a “major role in the world’s food supply,” including 90 percent of all corn, soybean and cotton grown in the U.S. are GE varieties. In Hawaii, a GE variety of papaya that resists aphid-transmitted ringspot virus is credited with saving the state’s papaya industry, she wrote.
But Callahan did acknowledge that the cultivation and testing of GE plants “raise several well-documented concerns,” including biological contamination of traditional plants and those growing in the wild by cross-pollination.
The ruling is a significant win for the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) movement because it indicates that states may have the power to regulate some commercial crops, but not experimental crops, which come under federal regulation.
Callahan was joined by Judges Sidney Thomas and Mary Murguia.
Case: Atay v. County of Maui, 15-16466.
Photo source: Maui News