Failed bills show that anti-GMO movement has been wrong all along

The Hawaii Legislature has packed up and headed for the exits for the year without enacting any new statutes to allow counties to regulate pesticides.

It is now clear that the radical fringe that loudly and stridently demands that counties adopt their own pesticide rules is in the position of a gambler who took the family’s life savings to Las Vegas, bet it all on the first roll of the dice and lost. By waging a pointless legislative campaign, the anti-GMO crowd has torpedoed its own court case attempting to revive Kauai’s Bill 2491.

That’s because the four bills that died this legislative session would explicitly have given counties the authority to regulate pesticides that U.S. District Court Judge Barry Kurren ruled is prohibited under state law. The Legislature, he ruled, has never given counties direct jurisdiction over pesticides or GMO (genetically modified organism) agriculture. In appealing Kurren’s decision to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the anti-pesticide/GMO fringe insists that no such pre-emption exists under state law.

In a separate case involving an anti-GMO initiative adopted in Maui County, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Mollway issued an injunction against enforcement, in part because the pending legislation would establish whether the state ever intended for counties to make their own pesticide and GMO laws. Mollway noted that she enjoined enforcement of Maui’s initiative “in light of the possibility that legislation may affect this case.”

If — as the fringe groups and both the Kauai County and Maui County cases have contended — state law permits counties to take independent action against pesticides and GMOs, the new authority granted in the four bills would be unnecessary. Instead, the anti-GMO movement, in effect, conceded that the federal courts are correct about state pre-emption.

That’s because if the courts were wrong, and the counties already have these powers, no new legislation would have been necessary.

So to put this in the most polite way possible, the anti-GMO extremists have shot themselves in the foot. With introduction of these bills, the anti-GMO crowd essentially agreed with a federal judge whose ruling they condemned and are now appealing.

Mollway has set a hearing on the status of the Maui case for early June. Having said she wanted to wait to see what the Legislature would do, the judge will face the clear reality that introduction of the bills conceded that counties don’t now have anti-pesticide or anti-GMO authority. Furthermore, it will be clear that Kurren, her colleague, was correct when he ruled in the Kauai County case that state law bars counties from taking such action.

The extremist crowd has accused both federal judges of being in the pocket of the seed companies that operate in Hawaii. They also accused the committees in the Hawaii Senate and House of being bought off by industry.

The committees most likely moved to defer the bills because lawmakers recognized that the furor over pesticides and GMOs would pressure senators and representatives to vote for the bills simply to quiet the braying of a vocal minority. If that had happened, the legislators would have been knuckling under to politics by decibel and social media post.

Legislators also realized that the bills would have created a crazy quilt of pesticide regulation throughout the state in which farmers would find Hawaii pesticide regulations impossibly confusing and damaging to their businesses.

Curiously, not one of these bills provided any resources — financial or otherwise — for counties to set up their own, independent, pesticide regulation systems nor addressed the simple reality that the counties have no ability to do so without creating four (one for each county) new, contradictory pesticide and GMO bureaucracies.

Kauai has pointed the way to a better approach with creation of the Joint Fact Finding panel that is now quietly and dispassionately evaluating who’s correct and who isn’t in the anti-GMO and pesticide regulation battle on our island. To its credit, our County Council created the JFF panel in hopes of finding a professionally facilitated way to bring all sides of this controversy together and to end the destructive political climate that has so tragically divided our island.

There has been talk about broadening use of the JFF approach to bring such task forces to all four counties. Astonishingly, the activists on Maui have opposed using state money for this — likely because they realize the JFF review on Kauai will discover that the noisy campaign against GMOs and pesticides has been fueled by hot air from the beginning.

The people of Kauai County and Hawaii are sick of the endless rhetoric that has led us nowhere but apart.

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Allan Parachini is a resident of Kilauea.

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