On June 30, 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii struck down a Maui County Ordinance that placed a moratorium on the cultivation of GMO crops within the county.
The ordinance was originally enacted in November of 2014 making it unlawful for “any person or entity to knowingly propagate, cultivate, raise, grow or test Genetically Engineered Organisms within the County of Maui…” According the text of the ordinance, the ordinance was meant to protect resources from transgenic contamination, protect the economic integrity of organic and non-GMO markets, protect against “hazardous aspects” of GMO production, preserve the right to reject GMO operations for “health-related, moral, or other concerns”, and to preserve county resources while promoting cultural heritage of the area. The moratorium was meant to remain in effect until Environmental and Public Health Impacts Studies had been conducted on the practices or crops in question.
The ordinance was challenged as being preempted by federal and state laws, and going beyond the county’s authority. Concerning federal preemption, the court found that the ordinance was expressly preempted by the Plant Protection Act (PPA) by attempting to ban all GMO crops, even those covered by the PPA. According to the court, the ordinance is also implicitly preempted by frustrating the purpose of the PPA via interference with the establishment of a national standard for movement in interstate commerce.
Concerning state preemption, the court found that the ordinance interfered with a preexisting statutory scheme of regulations within the state. Further, the court found that the ordinance is beyond the county’s authority, as violations of the ordinance carry a financial penalty greater than the amount allowed in the adopted Maui charter.
Written by Tyler R. Etter- Research Assistant
July 6, 2015