Growing concerns over GMO registry on Big Island - Hawaii News Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Growing concerns over GMO registry on Big Island A Big Island papaya farmer whose lawsuit delayed a law on modified crops says he fears a backlash from activists By Timothy Hurley POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Mar 12, 2014 LAST UPDATED: 07:37 a.m. HST, Mar 12, 2014

Registration requirements for Hawaii island's growers of genetically modified crops are on hold for now because of a judge's ruling. But the question remains: Will the broader scope of the county's new law banning the outside use and testing of modified plants be challenged in court? "Let's just say nothing's been ruled out," said Lorie Farrell of Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United, a group that represents a dozen major agricultural organizations, including the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association. Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Naka-mura granted a temporary restraining order Friday in favor of an anonymous papaya farmer whose lawsuit claims the new registration procedure is "burdensome and intrusive" and could lead to backlash from anti-GMO activists and to having trade secrets stolen after he gives up confidential information required under the law. The order prevents the county from enforcing the registration requirement and disclosing information already received for the registry. Hawaii island's papaya farmers, most of whom grow genetically modified varieties resistant to the ring--spot virus, are exempt from the law but are required to register. While the lawsuit argues that the entirety of Bill 113 is invalid because it conflicts with various federal and state laws, it seeks relief only on the registration requirement due to the urgency of last week's deadline for registration. "The law isn't fair," remarked Ross Sibu-cao, president of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, who has joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff. Sibucao said his fellow growers really do fear for their crops and their livelihoods. According to the suit, the anonymous farmer has been the victim of intimidation and threatening behavior by anti-GMO crop activists, and so have others.

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In September about 100 papaya trees were cut down with machetes overnight in the Puna District. In 2011 about 10 acres of trees were cut down on three adjoining papaya farms. In 2010 approximately 8,500 papaya trees were cut down. "There were signs covered with fake blood," Farrell said, adding, "It has crossed the line." Lawyers for the plaintiff — including Margery Bronster, who is also representing the companies seeking to upend Kauai's anti-GMO law — are seeking a preliminary injunction. The request will be heard March 24. Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who introduced Bill 113, said that if the restraining order is upheld, it will frustrate the purpose of the ordinance. She said it's important to know where the genetically modified crops are so that officials can monitor where potential problems might occur. And, for example, if a farmer wants to grow organic papayas, he or she isn't going to want to plant next to a field of GMO papayas, for fear of cross-pollination and contamination of the organic crop, she said. Wille said she is especially disappointed with the legal action because a provision was included in the law allowing county officials to keep sensitive information confidential. She said that instead of waiting to file suit until the 90-day registration period ended, papaya farmers should have talked with county officials to explain what information they wanted withheld. "The way they did it, they just seem more like pawns of Monsanto," she said, referring to the multinational corporation known for genetically engineered products. Wille said the registry isn't going to make papaya farmers any more vulnerable. "The truth is everyone knows where the GMO papaya is," she said. As of last week's deadline, slightly more than 200 farmers registered under the law. Hawaii island has about 3,000 farmers. Registration is voluntary for non-GMO farmers. On Kauai, meanwhile, the first court date isn't scheduled for another month in a lawsuit filed in January by crop seed giants Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer and Agrigenetics Inc., a company affiliated with Dow AgroSciences. The suit, which aims to block a new law with restrictions on pesticides and genetically modified crops, charges the county with violating the U.S. and Hawaii Constitutions, multiple federal and state laws and the Kauai County Charter. BASF joined the suit in February. On Maui the County Council is considering a bill that would require pesticide buffer zones, disclosure of GMO crops and notification of pesticide applications. At the same time, a group of Maui residents has launched a petition drive hoping to establish a moratorium on large-scale farming of genetically modified crops while an environmental public health impact statement is conducted. About 8,500 signatures must be submitted by March 31 to put the initiative on the November ballot. At the state Capitol, lawmakers are still considering a bill to mobilize a task force to determine whether the state should regulate the agricultural use of genetically modified organisms. However, two bills requiring GMO labeling on products did not make it out of the state Legislature this year.
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A recent Hawaii Poll for the Hono-lulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now found that 76 percent wanted the Legislature to take action on GMO labeling, although only 25 percent of voters interviewed were very familiar with the issue.
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