Local Governments Can Prohibit GE Crops, Says U.S. Court of Appeals

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its decisions Friday on whether federal and Hawai'i state laws preempt Hawai'i counties' authority to regulate genetically engineered (GE) crops and pesticide use. Of significance to state and local communities throughout the U.S., the Ninth Circuit ruled that federal law—specifically, the Plant Protection Act—does not prohibit states and counties from passing local laws to regulate and ban commercially-grown GE crops.

"Today's decision to allow states and counties to ban or regulate GE crops is an important victory for GE-free seed sanctuaries and small communities and farmers around the country," George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, said.

In granting its decision the court recognized potential harm to farmers and environment from the widespread planting of GE crops, asserting, "the cultivation and testing of GE plants raise several well-documented concerns." Notably, the court affirmed, "transgenic contamination has previously caused significant economic impacts on farmers of conventional, non-GE crops."

The court acknowledged as well that "the cultivation of GE crops also may raise environmental concerns, such as harm to beneficial plants and animals caused by the increased use of pesticides sometimes associated with testing and growing GE crops, the proliferation of 'superweeds' and other pests resistant to pesticides, and the reduction of biodiversity." The court went on to declare: "The regulation of commercialized crops, both of GE and traditional varieties, remains within the authority of state and local governments."

At the same time, however, the court ruled that under Hawai'i law, counties and municipalities do not have the authority to regulate GE crops (as some in other states do), and that Hawai'i state law places such authority in the hands of the State alone.

"We're disappointed that the court misinterpreted Hawai'i law and concluded the Hawai'i legislature decided Hawai'i counties lack any such authority," Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said. "The legislature did not, and the decision leaves Hawai'i unprotected from the harms the Ninth Circuit acknowledged. We believe that when Hawai'i's state courts have an opportunity, they will reject the Ninth Circuit's conclusion on this point and allow Hawai'i's people to protect themselves, since the State certainly hasn't protected them."

The court also ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) alone has the authority to regulate field trials and experimental GE crops; neither states nor local governments can ban or approve. This is particularly troubling to communities in Hawai'i, since the many field trials and associated pesticide use in Hawai'i poses significant risks to local citizens and the environment

"We are extremely disappointed with the ruling that some experimental GE field trials can only be regulated by USDA, and are considering all legal options. Most importantly, we continue to stand and fight with the people of Hawaiʻi against these chemical companies," Kimbrell said.

Attorneys with Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, who represented local residents, conservation groups, and Hawai'i County in the proceedings, are analyzing the full scope of the court's decisions and will be considering options that would protect Hawai'i's people, farms and the environment.

"As a mother and a resident of Kekaha, Kauaʻi, I will continue to stand up and protect my family and my community," said Malia Kahale'ina Chun, a mother, educator and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner. "It is our responsibility to insure that our keiki have access to clean air, clean water and to 'āina that sustains them."

Show Comments ()

Trump Administration Offers 77 Million Acres in Gulf of Mexico to Oil Industry

The Trump administration is holding the biggest offshore oil and gas lease auction in U.S. history Wednesday, offering all 77 million acres of unleased, available federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

The sale comes as administration officials seek to rescind drilling safety rules approved after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, reduce royalties paid by oil companies, and expand offshore drilling into every ocean in the country.

Keep reading... Show less
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt. Mitchell Resnick

Pruitt to Restrict Use of Scientific Data in EPA Policymaking

In the coming weeks, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is expected to announce a proposal that would limit the type of scientific studies and data the agency can use in crafting public health and environmental regulations.

The planned policy shift, first reported by E&E News, would require the EPA to only use scientific findings whose data and methodologies are made public and can be replicated.

Keep reading... Show less
Mity / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

20% of U.S. Diets Responsible for Almost Half of Country’s Food-Related Emissions, Study Finds

If you've been deliberating about going vegetarian, a study published Tuesday in Environmental Letters might give you the final push.

Keep reading... Show less
Sea Shepherd small boat assists the Liberian Coast Guard to chase down the F/V Hai Lung. Sea Shepherd

Notorious Toothfish Poacher Arrested by Liberian Coast Guard, Assisted by Sea Shepherd

A notorious Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish poaching vessel, famous for plundering the Antarctic, was arrested on March 13 in waters belonging to the West African state of Liberia by the Liberian Coast Guard, with assistance from the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.

The F/V Hai Lung, known to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) by its previous name "Kily," was transiting through Liberian waters when it was boarded and inspected by a Liberian Coast Guard team working alongside Sea Shepherd crew on board Sea Shepherd's patrol vessel M/Y Sam Simon.

Keep reading... Show less

7 Must-See Films at the 42nd Cleveland International Film Fest

It's that time, again!

EcoWatch is proud to be a media partner of the Cleveland International Film Festival (CIFF), now celebrating its 42nd year. This year, EcoWatch is honored to be sponsoring Anote's Ark. This documentary spotlights Kiribati, a small remote island facing devastating effects due to climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: 'We have approved Bayer's plans to take over Monsanto because the parties' remedies, worth well over €6 billion, meet our competition concerns in full.' EU Commission Twitter

EU Approves Controversial Bayer-Monsanto Merger

The European Union approved Bayer's takeover of Monsanto, a major hurdle in the $66 billion merger that would create the world's largest integrated seed and pesticide conglomerate.

The European Commission said the German chemical-maker's takeover of the St. Louis-based agribusiness giant is "conditional on an extensive remedy package, which addresses the parties' overlaps in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture."

Keep reading... Show less
Todd Porter & Diane Cu

How Much Daily Activity You Need to Burn off 9 Healthy (But High-Calorie) Foods

By Luke Doyle

A healthy lifestyle is fueled by nutrient-rich foods that give your body the energy it needs. But some of these foods come with high calorie counts and the "healthy" label doesn't mean it's okay to consume unlimited amounts of them.

Keep reading... Show less
Marine debris laden beach in Hawaii. NOAA Marine Debris Program / Flickr

Ocean Plastic Projected to Triple Within Seven Years

If we don't act now, plastic pollution in the world's oceans is projected to increase three-fold within seven years, according to a startling new report.

The Future of the Sea report, released Wednesday for the UK government, found that human beings across the globe produce more than 300 million metric tons of plastic per year. Unfortunately, a lot of that material ends up in our waters, with the total amount of plastic debris in the sea predicted to increase from 50 million metric tons in 2015 to 150 million metric tons by 2025.

Keep reading... Show less


The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!