The use of Genetically Modified Organisms (“GMOs”) in food continues to be a heavily litigated issue, as seen by recent developments in Hawaii and in Oregon. Several other lawsuits over GMO-labeling laws are pending in various courts across the country.
In Hawaii, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry M. Kurren has twice found that local ordinances limiting the production of GMOs are preempted by state and federal law, and he is set to issue a similar ruling on a third ordinance. On August 25, 2014, Judge Kurren invalidated Kauai County Ordinance 960, which would have restricted the use of pesticides in food production and would have required food labels to disclose use of pesticides or of GMOs. On November 26, 2014, Judge Kurren invalidated Hawaii County Ordinance 13-121, which would have restricted the production and growth of genetically modified foods. A third such ordinance, this one from Maui County, is currently still pending before Judge Kurren.
However, the district court’s decision on Kauai County Ordinance 960 has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Whether Judge Kurren’s preemption rulings are permanent, therefore, remains to be seen.
In Oregon, supporters are contesting the results of the GMO-labeling ballot initiative that was narrowly defeated in November’s election. The ballot initiative, which would have required food labels to disclose the presence of GMOs, failed by 812 votes. Proponents of the ballot initiative believe this result is due to the state’s mishandling of approximately 4,600 mail-in ballots. A lawsuit seeking a recount of these ballots has been filed.
At this time, it appears as though neither side in the fight over GMOs is willing to concede defeat or able to claim victory.