Unless you’ve been off island for the past two months, you can’t have escaped all the talk about GMO’s, or genetically engineered organisms. Even on the mainland, major news outlets like U. S. News & Woirld Report and ABC News have picked up the story.
But, here on Maui, itʻs all too real, and voters will soon be deciding the issue. As the election draws near, some residents are wondering what it all means.
Basically, an initiative to place a moratorium — or stop order — on farming of genetically engineered organisms has been put on the November 4 general election ballot.
The ballot questions reads as follows:
“Should the proposed initiative prohibiting the cultivation or reproduction of genetically engineered organisms within the County of Maui, which may be amended or repealed as to a specific person or entity when required environmental and public health impact studies, public hearings, a two thirds vote and a determination by the County Council that such operation or practice meets certain standards, and which establishes civil and criminal penalties, be adopted for Maui County?
Let’s break it down.
In the Maui County Proposed Amendments to the Revised Charter of the County of Maui Public Notice, Section 1 states, “In Maui County, GE (Genetic Engineering) Operations and Practices include the cultivation of GE seed crops, experimental GE test crops, and extensive pesticide use including the testing of experimental Pesticides and their combinations in what is effectively an outdoor laboratory.”
In other words, the initiative is calling for a suspension of all GE operations and practices until those practices can be proven safe for not only the residents of Maui County, but also the ecology as well.
The initiative is requiring that those farmers who engage in GE research, planting, and cultivation get an Environmental Public Health Impact Statement that would later be reviewed by the County Council for approval.
The State of Hawaiʻi Department of Health Office of Environmental Quality Control website states that the purpose of the chapter is to “help stimulate, expand and coordinate efforts to maintain the optimum quality of the State’s environment.”
The purpose of an Environmental Public Health Impact Statement, according to the Department of Health Administrative Rules website, is to ensure that “all environmental concerns are given appropriate consideration in decision making along with economic and technical considerations.”
Once the Impact Statement is reviewed by the County Council, the public will be invited to attend public hearings on whether or not genetically engineered organisms meet health and safety standards. Then, a lifting of the moratorium would be put to a vote in Maui County, and two-thirds of the voters would need to approve it in order to re-allow GE organisms.
Violators would be subject to both civil and criminal penalties.
Section 9 of the Maui County Proposed Amendments to the Revised Charter of the County of Maui Public Notice entitled, “Right of Action for Violations – Attorneys’ Fees,” states that the Department of Environmental Management “may bring an action in a court of competent jurisdiction to enjoin any person or entity from violating this chapter.”
Simply put, if one does not pass the review of the Environmental Public Health Impact Statement by the County Council, one could face civil monetary penalties in amounts of $10,000.00 for a first violation, $25,000.00 for a second violation, or $50,000.00 for a third violation.
On top of monetary penalties, one could face jail time.
The wording of the initiative is not the only thing that is confusing voters. Some residents aren’t sure which box to check on the ballot.
To clarify, voting “yes” on the ballot would mean you are in agreement with the initiative and want to put a temporary moratorium on genetically engineered organisms.
Voting “no” on the ballot means that you are in disagreement with the initiative and want to allow continued development of genetically engineered organisms on Maui.
To read the entire Maui County Proposed Amendments to the Revised Charter of the County of Maui Public Notice for yourself, click here.