The Hawaii County Council heard more testimony on a bill to restrict genetically altered crops Tuesday during the first meeting since members gave it a positive recommendation while in committee.
About 60 people had signed up to testify. Hundreds had previously spoken before the council’s Public Safety and Mass Transit Committee. Meeting as that committee, the council gave the bill a positive recommendation Oct. 1 in a 6-2 vote. It needs two votes at the council level and the mayor’s signature to become law.
The meeting held at the West Hawaii Civic Center offered the first opportunity for testimony on the bill since early September.
The meeting began at 4 p.m. At 6 p.m., the council was still working through testimony, and it wasn’t clear if any action would be taken.
As with previous lengthy sessions, testifiers offered a mix of opinion, fact and some hyperbole while seeking to win the county’s first battle over genetically modified organisms since a ban on transgenic coffee and taro was adopted in 2008.
Many had addressed the council members during the committee process, and provided similar narratives.
One argument, presented by many opponents of genetically modified organisms, is that the crops threaten human health and the environment as well as consolidate control of the food supply into the hands of large companies.
Another, from supporters of the technology, is that transgenic crops are a solution to pests, disease and other demands placed on farmers.
Supporters also contend it’s safe for consumption.
The bill would ban open-air use of transgenic crops with exemptions for papaya and other modified crops on the island.
A registry for exempted plants would also be implemented.
Several proposed amendments were up for consideration as of Tuesday.
One, from Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who introduced the bill, would provide an emergency clause, which would allow farmers to seek a temporary exemption from the ban if their crops are threatened by a disease.
Wille has said she is also working on an amendment to allow the county Planning Department to draft administrative rules for enforcement.
Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi has also offered amendments to specifically exempt the horticulture industry and university researchers.
Several testifiers spoke against his proposals.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.