MAUI, Hawaii, Nov. 5, 2014 – Voters in Maui County, Hawaii, on Tuesday narrowly approved a moratorium on the testing or cultivation of genetically modified or engineered crops in the county until further health and environmental tests are conducted. The measure was approved by a vote of 23,082 (50.2 percent) to 22,005 (47.9 percent), according to state election results.

(Editor’s Note: In the Nov. 5 edition of the Agri-Pulse newsletter, the final vote was incorrectly reported as a narrow defeat for the measure. We regret the error.)

Opponents, led by Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and the Council for Biotechnology Information, raised more than $7 million in a failed effort to defeat the measure. The companies farm more than 3,500 acres in the county, which consists of the islands of Maui, Molakai and Lanai, employing more than 600 people.

The Shaka Movement, the group behind the Maui initiative, said the companies are endangering the region by testing herbicides and genetically modified plants.

“Our victory today sends a strong message to the agrochemical industry in Hawaii -- community members will not sit idly by and watch these companies threaten the health and safety of our people and our planet,” said Ashley Lukens, program director at the Hawaii Center for Food Safety. “Voters saw past the misleading claims of pesticide companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical and demanded accountability to the community.”

Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban Initiative said that while the measure was billed as a “temporary moratorium” on certain types of farming, it “would in fact criminalize and place an immediate and permanent ban on longstanding farming operations.”

In Washington, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) said the ban “will ultimately cut jobs and jeopardize the local economy and the future of agriculture in Hawaii.”

BIO President and CEO Jim Greenwood issued the following statement in response to the vote.

“Agricultural biotechnology has contributed to the innovative farming solutions that have enabled farmers to grow more food on less land with fewer pesticide applications, less water and reduced on-farm fuel use.  This initiative will criminalize these hard-working farmers and will prohibit long-standing farming operations in Maui and on neighboring islands.

“Agricultural biotech farming operations – whose presence contributes substantially to Maui County’s economy – will essentially be forced to shut down, leaving hundreds of local citizens without jobs.

“Even more damaging, passage of this initiative is a ban on innovation and sustainable farming. 

“The science of genetic engineering led to development of the Rainbow papaya, which is credited with saving Hawaii’s papaya industry. This technology has the potential to help other plants and crops – such as orchids, citrus, strawberries, coffee and bananas – withstand pests and disease. Now, Maui County farmers will be prohibited from using those improvements.

“We are proud of the successes and potential of biotechnology, and we will continue to defend our industry, our companies and their employees from baseless political claims that forbid science and eliminate farmer choice.” 


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