Monsanto, Dow Chemicals sue Maui County over GMO law

Two agricultural companies sued Maui County yesterday

Monsanto Co and a Dow Chemical Co have filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Honolulu, to challenge a new law banning the cultivation of genetically modified organisms,  AP reported.

They are seeking to prevent the law from taking effect.

"This local referendum interferes with and conflicts with long-established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful cultivation of GMO plants," John Purcell, Monsanto Hawaii's business and technology lead, said in a statement.

The case had been assigned to magistrate Judge Barry Kurren, who earlier this year declared a Kauai County law regulating genetically modified crops invalid as it was superceded by state law.

The Maui law imposes a moratorium on growing genetically engineered crops until scientific studies were conducted on their safety and benefits. The moratorium can be lifted only after a vote by the Maui County Council.

County voters narrowly passed a ballot initiative last week that imposed the ban following an intense campaign. The seed companies spent $8 million into advertising opposing the measure, which was much higher than that spent by the initiative's supporters.

The law, which is not applicable to crops in mid-growth cycle, would come into effect when officials certified the election results. That would be expected to happen late this month.

Meanwhile, five Maui residents have filed a lawsuit in Second Circuit court on Wednesday, seeking ''declaratory relief to assure transparency and the proper implementation,'' of the newly passed initiative that placed a moratorium on GMO cultivation in Maui County, Maui News reported.

The lawsuit, filed by initiative supporters, Dr Lorrin Pang, Mark Sheehan, Lei'ohu Ryder, Bonnie Marsh, Alika Atay, and the SHAKA Movement also sought to ''quell the complaints by agricultural giants Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences.''

According to Honolulu attorney Michael Carroll, representing the plaintiffs, the lawsuit requested that the county take proper measures to implement the new law, including adopting appropriate rules and obtaining the necessary funding.

He added, the lawsuit further sought to establish that the law was enforceable by resolving the claims made by Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences to the contrary.

''We applaud the county's recent indication that they will implement the moratorium,'' said Mark Sheehan, spokesperson for the citizen group in a statement from his attorney. ''However, given the strong prior opposition of the Maui County Council and Mayor's Office during the campaign, we want to ensure that the citizens of Maui have full access to the implementation process and that the new law is properly administered.''