By Carey Gillam
Feb 24 (Reuters) - A citizens' group on Maui on Monday launched a petition to allow voters to consider temporarily suspending production of genetically modified crops (GMOs) on the Hawaiian island.
The group said its "temporary moratorium initiative" seeks a suspension until the completion of an environmental and public health impact study examining the effects of widespread testing of GMO crops and associated pesticide use.
The step is part of a larger battle brewing in the United States and other countries between critics who say GMO crops and associated pesticides contribute to health and environmental dangers and those who argue the technology is essential to boosting global food production.
In Maui, groundwater is already significantly contaminated with pesticides, the citizens group said in a statement on Monday. The group said they thought rising numbers of birth defects were connected to GMO-related pesticide use.
To put a GMO moratorium before voters in an election scheduled for November, the citizens must submit 8,500 registered voters' signatures by March 31.
The Hawaiian islands are a popular testing ground for biotech crops for many companies due to a favorable year-round climate.
Meanwhile, a coalition of residents on the neighboring island of Kauai and public interest groups, represented by consumer and environmental groups the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice, filed papers in U.S. District Court in Honolulu, Hawaii to intervene as defendants in a court case defending a new pesticide disclosure law passed in Kauai.
DuPont, Syngenta and Agrigenetics Inc., a company affiliated with Dow AgroSciences, which is a unit of Dow Chemical, and BASF are suing to block the law that puts limits on pesticide and GMO crop use on Kauai.
The chemical companies claims the Kauai law, which was passed by island leaders in November, is unconstitutional.
The Kauai bill requires large agricultural companies to disclose pesticide use and GMO crop plantings while establishing buffer zones around schools, homes and hospitals.
Residents there have reported numerous health problems they fear are linked to large amounts of pesticides sprayed over experimental GMO crops being grown on the island.
The most popular biotech crops are corn and soybeans that have been genetically altered to make the plants tolerant of chemical herbicides and resist pest damage. Farmers say using biotech crops improves production and makes fighting weeds easier.