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Hearing on GMO bill ends in recess; testimony resumes Nov. 19


Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Hawaii County Council recessed its meeting on Bill 113 on Tuesday evening after receiving over four hours of public testimony.

More than 100 people had signed up to speak on the legislation that would restrict the use of transgenic crops.

The meeting, which started at 2 p.m., recessed at 6:30 p.m. after more than 80 people spoke. It will reconvene at 9 a.m. Nov. 19.

Supporters of the bill exceeded opponents by more than 4-1.

The council voted for the bill during its first reading Oct. 16. It needs one more vote to pass.

Supporters of the legislation question the safety of genetically modified organisms and believe cross-pollination threatens non-GMO growers.

“This is people versus corporations, pure and simple,” said state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna.

Critics of the bill say it would restrict research and agriculture on the island.

“I think you should get rid of this bill because it’s a waste of time,” said papaya grower Lowell Jose.

Some Big Island scientists also questioned the bill, and state Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Scott Enright urged the council to show caution.

“It’s important that policies such as the one facing the County Council be made with a complete grasp of the facts and potential ramifications,” Enright said.

Actress Roseanne Barr, who owns a farm in Hamakua, also spoke again in favor of the bill.

“In the world, demand is huge for organic crops,” she said. “Why would they think they have a right to poison my organic crops?”

The bill would ban the open-air use and testing of transgenic crops, with exemptions for papaya growers and others already growing GMO plants. That is believed to be limited to the Big Island Dairy, which grows transgenic corn for feed.

It also would require researchers and exempted farms to sign up for a registry at the cost of $100 a year for each location.

The council could grant an emergency exemption for crops significantly affected by disease.

Council Chair J Yoshimoto introduced an amendment late Tuesday that would eliminate the registry and require the island’s planning commissions to consider emergency exemptions as well.

That amendment has yet to be discussed.

Email Tom Callis at


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