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Genetically Engineered Crop|Ban Put on Hold in Hawaii

HONOLULU (CN) - Farmers in Maui may continue to grow genetically engineered crops without facing penalties and imprisonment, a federal judge ruled.

Chief U.S. District Judge S. Oki Mollway on March 19 extended the ban on a Maui Ordinance that makes cultivation of genetically engineered crops illegal. From its original March 31 deferment, the ordinance will be put off until June 15.

"The ordinance could result in a considerable waste of public resources if the county is forced to build the infrastructure necessary to enforce the ordinance, only to find that other circumstance render those efforts unnecessary," Mollway wrote.

The judge said she must wait for the Legislature to complete its session before issuing a ruling because "the ordinance is the subject of litigation that may be affected by state legislation."

Mollway said that HB 849 or SB 986 may render the county's GE-ban ordinance moot.

Both bills would amend Hawaii's Right to Farm Act, barring counties from enacting laws, ordinances and resolutions that limit the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in agricultural practices. As of March 23, both bills were technically dead due to failure to meet legislative deadlines.

"While the bill themselves might not move forward, the content of the bills could conceivably find its way into other bills," Mollway wrote in the order.

Mollway did not accept the intervenors' argument that the delay will harm the integrity of the political process. A short delay does no harm, she said.

On Nov. 4, 2014 a bill that placed a moratorium on cultivation of GE organisms in Maui became law through a ballot initiative.

The ordinance makes it "unlawful for any person or entity to knowingly propagate, cultivate, raise, grow or test GE organisms within the County of Maui." Offenders can be fined up to $50,000.

A group of Maui and Molokai-based organizations challenged the law on Nov. 13 in Federal Court. The petitioners included the Robert Ito Farm, the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, Maui County, the Molokai Chamber of Commerce and Monsanto, among others.

They claimed the law violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, the Maui County Charter, and state law.

The Maui County Charter allows a maximum penalty of $1,000 for violation of an ordinance; state law requires that fines or penalties be imposed after providing notice and an opportunity to correct a violation.

The county and the petitioners agreed on Nov. 17 to put the ordinance on hold until March 31; now it's on hold till June 15.

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