GMO protests
© DENNIS ODA / JAN. 21, 2015
Protesters Debra Mader (with her daughter, Milani), Paul Fenelon, Beth Savitt and Dr. Joe Ritter traveled from Maui to protest against genetically modified organisms at the state Capitol during the 2015 opening session of the Legislature.
A federal judge has ruled that three Hawaii counties can't enact their own bans or regulations on genetically modified crops and pesticides, handing a victory to the major agriculture companies that fought the regulations.

Circuit Judge Consuelo M. Callahan today upheld a lower court's decision that said Hawaii law prohibits counties from regulating agricultural matters.

The cases stemmed from a decision by Maui voters to ban the cultivation and testing of genetically modified crops in 2014 and related movements on other Hawaiian islands.

Kauai County had imposed pesticide notification requirements and mandated pesticide buffer zones, and Hawaii Island had enacted an ordinance banning open air testing of genetically engineered organisms, among other things.

But the court held that the county laws are pre-empted by state laws that regulate potentially harmful plants.

"We will continue to stand and fight with the people of Hawaii against these chemical companies, and part of that is going to be demanding action at the state level to protect the people and the environment," said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center For Food Safety, which pushed for the bans. "We're considering all legal options, including appeal."

Monsanto, which farms genetically engineered seeds to be used by farmers around the world, was part of a group that fought the Maui GMO ban. Monsanto Hawaii employs about 1,000 people on Maui, Molokai and Oahu, Dan Clegg, Hawaii business operations lead for Monsanto, said in an emailed statement.

"We're listening and we've heard the concerns some people have about GMOs and today's farming practices," Clegg said. "Our commitment to ongoing dialogue with our neighbors doesn't stop today. We understand the responsibility we have to farm sustainably and to work collaboratively, and we welcome the opportunity to continue having conversations with members of the community."

Those who pushed for increased regulation of pesticides and GMOs in Hawaii vowed to introduce new legislation in the state's upcoming session.