Reading of proposed amendment shows how it would hurt Maui County farmers

Many in the anti-genetically modified organism movement tout that the ballot initiative they are supporting will not hurt farmers, but there are horrendous penalties included in the 10 pages of charter amendments they are proposing. Unfortunately, all the public will see is the ballot question, which many already feel is confusing. It reads:

MAUI: Voter Initiative: Genetically Engineered Organisms

Should the proposed initiative prohibiting the cultivation or reproduction of genetically engineered organisms within the County of Maui, which may be amended or repeated 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?

Most voters are not aware of several harmful elements of the amendment. Here are a few details we adamantly oppose.

They define “GE Operation(s) and/or Practice(s)” as “both intended and unintended product(s) and process(es) of any kind that is commonly associated with the creation, propagation, cultivation, raising or growing of GE Organisms (including but not limited to seed crops, test crops, or farming crops), and includes but is not limited to Pesticide application, transgenic contamination, and contamination of land and water resources.”

Second, they note that “transgenic contamination can and does occur as a result of cross-pollination, comingling of conventional and GE seeds, accidental transfer by animals or weather events, and other mechanisms.”

Then they add civil penalties with exorbitant fines of:

* $10,000 for a first violation.

* $25,000 for a second violation.

* $50,000 for a third or subsequent violation.

Each day of violation is considered a separate violation. If one is unable to address the situation and cover the fine as noted, the fines accumulate each day. On a first-violation basis, those cited could find themselves owing $100,000 in a mere 10 days.

There is also criminal recourse:

“In addition to any fines described above, any person or entity, whether as principal, agent, employee, or otherwise, violating or causing or permitting the violation of any of the provisions of this initiative, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not more than two-thousand dollars ($2,000.00), or imprisoned not more than one (1) year, or both, for each offense. The continuance of any violation after conviction shall be deemed a new criminal offense for each day that the violation or violations continue.”

There are also further remedies that the county would be expected to employ. In addition, if someone is falsely accused and an injured “citizen” wins a lawsuit, the provisions of this ban then limit that individual’s recovery to fees and costs, not monetary damages. That’s absurd.

Some may say this was not intended, but if passed these severe negative unintended consequences can happen. We have legislation such as this pitting neighbor against neighbor and forcing people to pay unnecessary exorbitant legal fees, wasting time and energy and ending up with a huge loss, even if they win.

There has been little discussion on the tremendous negative economic impacts and job losses our county will face if this ban is enacted. We have been working with leading economist Paul Brewbaker to identify the economic impacts so the public can be more fully informed. He will present a white paper on the “Economic Impacts of the Maui Voter Initiative on Genetically Engineered Organisms” on Thursday and we will share his findings soon.

We encourage you to read the 10-page ballot initiative to see for yourself how harmful this is and to vote “No” on this proposed charter amendment.

* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.