A federal judge last week ruled that a Maui County, Hawaii, ban on the cultivation of genetically engineered crops is pre-empted by federal and state law and, therefore, is invalid.

The county's ordinance creating the prohibition exceeded the county's authority, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway said in the ruling she handed down.

The judge noted she was ruling about whether a county has the authority to enforce such a ban and was not ruling on the attributes or negative aspects of growing, producing genetically modified (GM) crops.

The county is the location of facilities for genetically engineered crops research being done by Monsanto Co. and Dow Chemical Company’s Agrigenetics Inc. Both have research farms for crop production in the county.

There is confusion as to what will happen next. A county official was quoted as saying the court ruling decided the issue and made the ordinance banning GM plants null and void, but at least one of the group leaders who was an advocate for the ban and sponsored the ballot initiative voted on by the county residents said the judge’s decision would be appealed.

The ban was passed by voter approval last November with a stipulation that GMO crops had to be studied more to assure that they are safe and to prove the benefits for growing them.

Kauai and Hawaii counties last year adopted their own measures regulating GMO crops, which were also struck down in other courts. Those rulings are under appeal.