Update — Local Governments Can’t Stop GMOs

In July, we wrote about a ballot initiative that banned GMOs in Maui County, Hawaii, which passed by a slim margin of 51 percent. It was challenged immediately in Federal Court by a collaboration of agricultural companies, and the law was struck down.

The same issue is now a matter of appeal (login credentials required) before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The backers of the initiative are seeking to overturn the District Court decision that stated the law was preempted by various federal laws.  However, the agricultural companies, led by Monsanto, are fighting back — stating that the backers have no standing, because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. In Hollingsworth v. Perry, Monsanto claims that the court conferred Article III standing to challenge or defend laws only to the localities and officials where the law is in place.  The private-organization backers disagree, saying that the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet addressed the issue of their legal interests in defending the law.

While these arguments are all based in complex constitutional law and the intersection of federal and state law, it is important to remember that the ultimate focus of this case is whether genetically engineered food products are entitled to any legal regulation, protection, or conversely, prohibitions. These products are certainly evolving at a pace faster than what the Federal Government can regulate, and so the courts are becoming more involved in determining what will and won’t apply to the industry. The Ninth Circuit is especially active in this area. We will continue to monitor the developments to help digest the information and how it might apply to companies in the food and beverage industry.


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