A Maui County ballot initiative to temporarily ban genetically engineered crops narrowly passed Tuesday following one of the most heavily financed political campaigns in state history.

The controversial measure pulled ahead late Tuesday, passing 50 percent to 48 percent — a difference of just 1,077 votes. It was a stunning turnaround after the measure was initially losing by 19 percent when the first results rolled in.

The county’s first-ever ballot initiative targeting global agriculture companies Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences attracted nearly $8 million from opponents, making it the most expensive campaign in Hawaii’s history.

A Monsanto Molokai field worker pollinates corn.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Opponents outspent advocates more than 87 to 1, according to the latest campaign spending reports available Tuesday. That amounts to more than $300 for every “no” vote.

But it still wasn’t enough to beat scores of Maui County residents who spent weeks canvassing, sign-waving and calling friends to share their concerns about seed companies’ farming practices.

Ashley Lukens, who directs the Hawaii chapter of the Center for Food Safety, a national nonprofit that has been lobbying for more regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), said Maui County residents deserve all the credit for the turnaround.

“I think that this is a really strong message to the entire agrochemical industry in the state of Hawaii that we are no longer going to sit idly by and watch them expand their operations without the kinds of regulations that ensure the health and safety of people across Hawaii,” Lukens said.

Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, spokesman for the political action committee Citizens Against the Maui County Ballot Initiative, thanked supporters for their help in an emailed statement.

“We are deeply concerned for the 600-plus workers and their families, local businesses, farmers and taxpayers that will be negatively impacted…

Loading 1,000 Votes: Maui GMO Farming Ban Squeaks By

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