By Michelle Kennedy Hogan
Maui is winning the war against Monsanto, according to an attorney for the Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina (SHAKA) Movement. On November 4, Maui voters approved a measure that would ban GMOs in Maui County. But earlier this year, Hawaii Judge Barry Kurren ruled that only states, not counties, can ban GMOs, saying that county laws are pre-empted by state law so they are “invalid.” Monsanto, Dow and others sued to stop the legislation, hoping that Kurren would rule the same after the Maui initiative passed, but Kurren decided to pass the case onto Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway after public pressure mounted against him. Now the Maui ban on GMOs can move forward, marking a definitive win for the people of Maui.
According to the Natural Society, “until at least the fall of 2011, Judge Kurren’s wife, Faye, was a trustee of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a 6-billion-dollar environmental group.” TNC specializes in working with mega-corporations, who donate major money, in return for receiving TNC’s “good housekeeping seal of approval” as friends of the environment. “In 2011, TNC leveraged a blockbuster deal with Dow Chemical. Dow pledged a $10 million donation. In exchange, Dow could forthwith use the TNC logo on its site and all its products. Among TNC’s council are businesspersons from Monsanto, Coca Cola, and of course, Dow. Among TNC’s corporate funders are again – Dow, Coke, DuPont, and Pepsi,” according to Natural Society.
In addition to striking down GMO bans, Kurren also recently struck down Ordinance 960 – a pesticide and GMO regulatory bill – in Kauai. Kurren was to be the presiding judge in the Maui County case, but knowing that Kurren has multiple ties to Big Agriculture, the people of Maui County pushed back. Many thought that the case could not be won, given Kurren’s past rulings and Big-Ag ties, and that Maui county would not be able to uphold the ban on GMOs on their island.
Originally, the SHAKA Movement agreed to allow a magistrate judge to preside over the case – in this case, it was Kurren. Once the SHAKA Movement found out Kurren would be in charge of their case, they withdrew their approval. Kurren then relinquished the position to Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway.
Having a different judge – a judge without known ties to the financial dealings of Monsanto and Dow Chemical – could have huge implications for the GMO ban and lead Maui to a win over Monsanto. The ruling further allows Maui County to file their own motions and respond to motions filed by the plaintiffs, according to SHAKA attorney Michael Carroll. If the law stands as voted, only the Maui County Council will be able to lift the ban on GMOs in their county.