Big Island GMO registry won’t disclose farmer IDs

HILO – A judge is allowing Hawaii County to maintain a registry of genetically modified crops while preventing public disclosure of farmers’ identities and specific farm locations.

Hilo Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday in response to papaya farmers who argued the Big Island’s registry requirement would expose them to vandalism or theft of trade secrets.

The registry is part of the county’s ban on open-air planting and testing of GMO crops. Papaya farmers are exempt from the ban but were required to participate in the registry.

The judge previously granted a temporary restraining order in favor of the papaya farmers, which put a hold on the registry requirements.

This week’s ruling allows the registry to begin after 30 days.

The injunction notes a need for clarity regarding what information the county would release to the public as part of the registry, Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. Releasing specific locations of papaya farms would not protect farmers of non-genetically engineered crops, the injunction says, because of the limited risk of cross-pollination and because GMO papaya is not prohibited under the ban.

The ruling is an acceptable compromise that allows the registry to continue, said Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who introduced the bill.

“It addresses the concerns without undermining the right-to-know laws,” she said, noting that the general location of farms could still be made public.