HONOLULU (AP) - A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Maui County ban on the cultivation of genetically engineered crops is pre-empted by federal and state law and invalid.

HONOLULU (AP) A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Maui County ban on the cultivation of genetically engineered crops is pre-empted by federal and state law and invalid.

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

The county, which is a major center for research on genetically engineered crops, will abide by the decision, spokesman Rod Antone said. Monsanto Co. and Dow Chemical Co. unit Agrigenetics Inc. both have research farms in the county.

The judge stressed that her ruling addresses only the legal question of county authority. "No portion of this ruling says anything about whether GE organisms are good or bad or about whether the court thinks the substance of the ordinance would be beneficial to the county," she said.

Maui voters passed the ordinance when they approved a ballot initiative last November. The measure imposes a moratorium on the growing of genetically engineered crops until scientific studies are conducted on their safety and benefits. The ordinance would only allow the moratorium to be lifted after a vote by the Maui County Council.

Hawaii's year-round warm weather makes the islands a favorite research spot for companies that use genetic engineering to develop new types of corn and other crops. The weather allows researchers to grow more generations of crops and accelerate their development of new varieties.

Monsanto has two farms in Maui County, on Maui and Molokai islands. Agrigenetics, which does business as Mycogen Seeds, has a farm on Molokai.

There has been little scientific evidence to prove that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts. But fears persist in Hawaii and elsewhere. In the islands, these concerns are compounded by worries about the companies' use of pesticides.

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Associated Press writer Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed to this report.