Moms, Farmers Head to Court to Keep Maui from Becoming 'Poisoned Paradise'

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Moms, Farmers Head to Court to Keep Maui from Becoming 'Poisoned Paradise'

Since Maui County won’t defend the new GMO ban, lawyers say 'we’ll have to do its job and make the arguments in court'

Maui residents have been fighting Monsanto for years. This photo was taken in 2010. (Photo: Alexis Baden-Mayer/flickr/cc)

A coalition of activists including moms, farmers, and public interest groups has filed papers defending Maui County's recently passed ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The ballot initiative, which passed with 50.2 percent of the vote, prohibits the growth, testing, or cultivation of GMO crops, also known as GE crops, in Maui County until an environmental and public health study can show that the practice is safe for the community.

Less than two weeks after the vote, agrochemical companies Monsanto and Dow Chemical—both of which poured big money into the race to defeat the referendum—filed suit against Maui County, claiming the initiative "interferes with and conflicts with long established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful cultivation of GMO plants." The suit sought to have the ban scrapped entirely, and also asked the court to temporarily delay the measure by issuing an injunction.

Ignoring the will of a majority of voters, Maui County agreed to an injunction until March 2015.

"Maui County’s betrayal of its own people by agreeing to delay the moratorium without a whimper of resistance proves it cannot be trusted to properly defend our clients’ interests," said managing attorney Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law firm that has defended similar GMO crop and pesticides ordinances passed by Kaua'i and Hawai'i counties last year. "The people of Maui, Moloka'i, and Lana'i have spoken, in the face of enormous industry pressure: They want the spraying and growing to stop until the impacts are properly studied. Since Maui County won’t defend the law, we’ll have to do its job and make the arguments in court."

As a result, local residents and "their children and families will continue to suffer exposure to toxic pesticides sprayed on Plaintiffs’ fields," reads the motion to intervene (pdf) filed by Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety on behalf of parties including The Mothers on a Mission (MOM) Hui, a group of mothers on Molokaʻi, Maui, and other islands concerned about the health of their families; Molokaʻi Mahiʻai, a group of Molokaʻi-based farmers; and Maui farmer Gerry Ross, among others. The motion calls on the court to either dismiss the lawsuit by Monsanto and Dow, or let a state court decide the issue.

If not, it claims, farmers and citizens can't be certain that their interests will be fairly represented in court.

The motion reads:

The actions of the Maui County government plainly demonstrate that the County is unlikely to make all the arguments in defense of the GE Initiative’s validity that Proposed Intervenors can and will make in this case.
In light of their public statements of opposition and their very first act in the litigation, neither Proposed Intervenors nor the Court can have confidence that the County’s defense of this suit will be vigorous; indeed, it already has been anything but vigorous. Proposed Intervenors also naturally question whether the County will assert every appropriate argument, where the Mayor remains the County’s chief executive, and where the majority of the County Council publicly opposed the GE Initiative, and where the County has again, already declined to make any argument opposing a preliminary injunction.

"Like the residents of Kaua'i and Hawai'i counties before them, the people of Maui County decided they would no longer sit idly by as the State of Hawai'i becomes a poisoned paradise of intensive genetically engineered crop production and its intertwined pesticide spraying," said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety. "These chemical companies are again trying to trump the democratic process, and again, we stand by the communities and will vigorously defend the law."

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