Update – Ninth Circuit Rules on Local Efforts to Block GMOs

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Last year, we followed the story of ballot efforts on a local level to preclude GMO crops from being grown in certain counties in Hawaii. The ballot initiatives, which banned GMO crops within the borders of the counties, passed by narrow margins, but were immediately struck down in court after a challenge from various agricultural companies. Local organizations filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, seeking to overturn the District Court decision stating that the ballot initiatives were preempted by federal and state laws. The court has now ruled, upholding the lower court’s decision that federal laws such as the U.S. Plant Protection Act and Hawaii’s own state statutory scheme preempt any local rules or efforts on banning GMOs.

The court reasoned that both the federal and state legislation was clearly intended to provide the exclusive remedies, respectively, which the county efforts sought to challenge directly. In doing so, the county initiatives were in specific conflict with the already existing federal and state schemes, and under general principles of preemption, the county laws could not survive scrutiny.

The agricultural companies have notched the Ninth Circuit’s decision as a win, but the consumer advocacy groups are not heeding ground yet. One of the group’s attorneys has indicated they believe the 9th Circuit interpreted Hawaii’s state law incorrectly, and are considering an appeal. Alternatively, based upon the court’s ruling that the state law is the exclusive remedy for this type of issue, there are efforts to change the State law — which, if done, may result in a conflict between State and Federal laws. The potential implications are thus many and varied: constitutional rights, states’ rights, big government v. local government, etc. With the changing national political climate, this battle looks to be one that will continue for the foreseeable future. We will continue to monitor and provide thoughts and analysis as new developments arise.

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