KAHULUI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) -
Supporters of Maui County's GMO initiative found themselves trailing after the first couple of printouts, but in the end, they pulled off a surprising come-from-behind win. The final result was 51% in support and 49% against the temporary ban on the cultivation of genetically engineered organisms. Opponents are now preparing to take legal action.
Anti-GMO activists celebrated their victory over opponents who raised nearly $8 million. The measure requires an environmental and public health study that is paid for by those who want an exemption from the temporary moratorium.
"I believe that there is enough clarity in the law as written and in the decision by the people that the mayor can in fact enforce it," said Mark Sheehan of the SHAKA Movement.
Critics say more than 600 jobs could be in jeopardy. Molokai's unemployment rate is already the highest in the state at 15 percent.
"In places like Molokai, if Monsanto pulls out, we have no replacement," said Arakawa. "It's going to be a nightmare in this community."
Monsanto Hawaii is gearing up for a court battle, arguing that the initiative is legally flawed.
"We believe this referendum is invalid and contrary to long-established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful testing and planting of GMO plants," said John Purcell, vice president, Monsanto Hawaii Business and Technology Lead, in a statement released by the company.
A federal judge recently overturned Kauai County's new ordinance restricting pesticide use and GMO crops. Attorney Michael Lilly believes the Maui County initiative will meet the same fate."This area is pre-empted by state law, so a court is most likely going to overturn it for that reason," he said.
"The cases are actually very different, countered Ashley Lukens, program director for the Hawaii Center for Food Safety. "The Kauai ordinance focused on pesticide disclosure and the creation of buffer zones around schools and hospitals."
"It is our intention to help defend the law if challenged, but it our hope that the industry will respect the will of Maui Citizens and perform this much needed assessment," said Andrew Kimbrell, the executive director for the national Center for Food Safety.
Lukens added, "I think that if they're willing to spend 18 million dollars nationwide to fight citizens' initiatives, they certainly have resources at their disposals to make sure that it can be done expediently."
Purcell said Monsanto plans to resume operations on Molokai on Thursday, after allowing worried workers to go home to their families on Wednesday. The measure does not apply to the growing or testing of genetically engineered organisms that are in mid-growth cycle. Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa said the measure is poorly written and will be extremely difficult to enforce.
"We're also going to have to create 'papaya police' as they're talking about it, going through virtually everybody's backyard. As much as they say that's not going to happen, according to what I'm seeing in the bill, that has to happen," Arakawa said.
"Oh my God, the papaya police. He's done everything he can to kind of discourage people from doing this and despite all of his efforts to discourage people from voting yes on this they did in fact vote yes," responded Sheehan.
State Rep. Kaniela Ing (D-South Maui), who supported the measure, said court action may buy some time for workers who may lose their jobs.
"Lawsuits will inevitably ensue, probably starting today, and an injunction will be filed," said Ing. "There'll be time for these employees -- we can find them new work."\
The measure includes civil fines ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, as well as criminal penalties.