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Council may consider Ford’s GMO bill next

January 6, 2014 - 10:31pm

A month has passed since Mayor Billy Kenoi signed Bill 113, limiting the use of genetically engineered crops on the Big Island, but the Hawaii County Council may still get a second helping of the contentious issue.

Ka‘u/South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford is bringing her own bill that would ban all modified crops back for discussion after the council’s Public Safety and Mass Transit Committee voted it down last September.

Ford, who chairs the committee, had placed it on today’s committee agenda but said Monday she was postponing the meeting because she is “severely under the weather.” She plans to bring it back in about a month.

Ford’s bill would go further than Bill 113 by banning all genetically altered crops within 30 days. The legislation the council adopted bans open-air use of modified plants with exemptions for those already growing them.

Ford was the only vote in favor of her bill when it was defeated.

Due to a council rule, the bill had to be sent to the Environmental Management Commission for review since it involved the county’s Environmental Management Department. That move kept the bill alive after the vote.

The commission gave it a negative recommendation Oct. 30.

Ford said she doesn’t expect it to pass and defended bringing her bill back while the county is already starting to implement Bill 113.

“I don’t think it’s a waste of time,” she said, adding the council needs to have a discussion about “where we go from here.”

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who introduced Bill 113, said she supports having Ford’s bill being discussed again but she also isn’t confident it would pass.

“I just see it as an opportunity to look ahead,” Wille said.

Several council members have voiced support for letting the county implement Wille’s bill before taking any other action.

A proposed ad hoc committee, which would have further studied the issue, failed to get support partially for that reason.

“I think we’re done,” said Council Chair J Yoshimoto. “We spent a lot of time on testimony.

“The council decided as far as the issue itself.”

Wille’s bill puts the county Research and Development Department in charge of registering exempted growers.

Those include papaya farmers, who use a variety resistant to the ringspot virus, and Big Island Dairy. The dairy grows transgenic corn for feed.

Donn Mende, Research and Development Department deputy director, said he expects the registry to be in place soon but couldn’t say when.

Exempted growers have 90 days to register after the bill was signed.

The University of Hawaii and other research institutions are also required to register.

The fee is $100 a year.

“We’re trying to make sure we follow the right steps,” Mende said.

While exempted growers will be asked to register, catching those who don’t may be challenging.

Mende said the department wasn’t given authority to enforce the law.

“We’re responsible for the registry,” he said. “We’re not responsible for enforcement.”

Violators could face fines of $1,000 per day for each violation.

Email Tom Callis at

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