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County delays GMO vote


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Hawaii County Council will have to wait until the end of the month to consider any action on a bill to limit the use of genetically modified crops.

The council, meeting as the Committee on Public Safety and Mass Transit, finished its second-straight day of testimony Wednesday on Bill 79.

But consideration was delayed after council members said they wanted to see proposed changes underlined in the legislation.

In response, Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille withdrew the amendments she introduced May 29 in order to offer a “Ramsayer” version, which would highlight proposed changes.

The meeting was recessed, at least tentatively, until July 30.

Testimony will not be taken.

“It is time for us to deliberate and this is what we’re going to do,” said South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford, who chairs the committee.

Ford initiated the discussion over recessing the issue. She said that looking at two different versions can get confusing.

“I don’t know how the public is possibly going to understand this,” Ford said.

Wille, who introduced the bill, said she had similar concerns.

She has additional amendments she wanted to propose and said she will include those in the next proposed draft.

That is expected to include both the removal of U.S. Department of Agriculture Level 3 biosafety requirements and buffer zones for existing transgenic crops, which would be exempted from the GMO ban.

Her proposed changes also include exemptions for the floral industry, which hopes to benefit from genetic engineering.

Wednesday was the fourth time the committee has taken up the legislation. It was first brought before it May 14.

Action by the committee was last delayed late May after Wille introduced amendments.

Council members said they wanted to hear additional testimony and they got plenty of it.

The follow-up meeting was scheduled only for Tuesday but was continued for an extra day after hundreds of people packed council chambers and offices to have their say.

Supporters of the bill say it is needed to restrict the use of GMO crops, including the seed industry, which they say relies heavily on chemicals and presents risks of cross-pollination of non-transgenic plants.

Making the Big Island a largely GMO-free zone could also bring economic benefits, they say.

Opponents say it would limit the types of crops farmers here can use.

Papaya growers have been the most vocal critics of the legislation.

They believe their industry, which lies heavily on transgenic papaya that is virus resistant, would be harmed by additional regulation and stigmatized by the bill even if they could still grow the modified crop.

The bill needs two votes outside of the committee to be adopted.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.


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