Growers Fight Hawai'i County Over GE Crops

     HONOLULU (CN) - Agricultural and floral trade groups sued the County of Hawai'i, challenging a law that "severely limits and, in many cases, wholly bans the cultivation, propagation, development and open-air testing of genetically engineered ('GE') crops."
     Lead plaintiff the Hawai'i Floriculture and Nursery Association was joined by the Hawai'i Papaya Industry Association, the Big Island Banana Growers Association, the Hawai'i Cattlemen's Council, other trade groups and four individuals.
     The groups claim that genetically engineered crops play a critical role in food production around the world, and that the county law, Bill 113, "is backed by no findings or evidence that GE crops are in any way harmful, or in any way endanger the local environment. In very sharp contrast to the extensive science-based approach taken by federal regulators, Bill 113 purports to justify its ban based on the so-called 'precautionary principle,' which is said to require that 'if a new technology poses threats of harm to human or environmental health, the burden of proof is on the promoter of the technology to demonstrate that the technology is safe.' Bill 113 § 1. But any such burden has already been met; these types of safety determinations have already been conclusively made by the federal government for commercial GE crops, and the federal government also controls exactly how, when, and where any developmental GE crops can be field tested. In short, using the 'precautionary principle' as its purported predicate, Bill 113 puts the County in direct conflict with determinations made after careful consideration by expert federal agencies, and purports to outlaw agricultural activities that the federal government has specifically authorized after performing a thorough scientific review."
     The growers claim that "the vast majority of several major U.S. crops are GE varieties," including 93 percent of soybeans, 90 percent of corn, and 90 percent of the cotton, and that 70 to 80 percent of the food eaten in the United States contains ingredients that have been genetically engineered.
     Genetic engineering saved one of Hawai'i County's largest crops from destruction in the 1990s, the complaint states. Papayas were "devastated by a particularly virulent strain of the aphid-transmitted ringspot virus" then. Researchers at the University of Hawai'i and Cornell University developed a GE papaya that resists the virus, which "is widely credited with saving the industry," the complaint states. That strain, Rainbow GE, now accounts for 85 percent of the papaya grown in the county.
     The growers claim that Bill 113 "imposes extreme burdens" on them and "cripple county farmers' current and future ability to farm GE crops with no corresponding local benefit. It also violates federal and Hawai'i law."
     The growers want enforcement of the bill enjoined. They claim it is pre-empted by federal and state laws, that it violates the Constitution's Commerce Clause, and that it is an unconstitutional regulatory taking.
     Their lead counsel is Margery Bronster.
     Plaintiffs include the Pacific Floral Exchange Inc., and the Biotechnology Industry Organization.