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GMO papaya disclosure curbed

Judge Greg Nakamura granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday preventing Hawaii County from disclosing the identity and specific location of farms growing genetically engineered papaya.

The order in Hilo Circuit Court allows the county to maintain a registry of genetically modified organisms, but prevents information that could identify papaya growers from being released publicly.

Two growers of GMO papaya, Ross Sibucao and an unnamed plaintiff, challenged the requirement that they register with the county, arguing it would expose them to vandalism or other forms of economic harm.

One of the concerns was that the county lacked clear rules regarding what information it would release to the public as part of the program.

The injunction notes the need for a comprehensive policy addressing this issue. In regard to disclosure, it says releasing the specific locations of papaya farms would not “protect farmers of non-genetically engineered crops” because of the “limited risk” of cross-pollination and because GMO papaya is not prohibited.

The registry is part of a law the county adopted in December banning the open-air use and testing of GMO crops. Papaya farmers, who mostly grow varieties modified to be resistant to the ringspot virus, and others already growing modified crops are exempted from the open-air ban.

Big Island Dairy is thought to be the only other grower of GMO crops on the island. The farm has grown genetically modified corn for cattle feed.

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who introduced the bill the county adopted, said she is satisfied with the ruling, and noted the registry can continue.

“It addresses the concerns without undermining the right-to-know laws,” she said.

Wille noted the general location of farms could still be made public.

Sibucao didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Nakamura previously issued a temporary restraining order preventing the registry from going into effect.

The injunction allows it to begin after 30 days.

A separate lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu is challenging the county’s restrictions on GMO crops.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.


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