County Council to discuss GMO bill


The Hawaii County Council will pick up the issue of genetically modified crops again next week, this time without comments from the public.

The meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Hilo council chambers will be reserved only for council discussion of Bill 79, which would limit the use of transgenic crops, following four previous meetings dominated by testimony from Big Isle residents.

The meeting was scheduled for last week but was postponed in anticipation of Tropical Storm Flossie.

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille introduced the bill last May to limit the adoption of genetically modified organisms and regulate existing transgenic crops.

It remains in its original form, though the councilwoman has continued to draft changes to the legislation, which has been praised by GMO opponents but criticized by several agriculture groups, including growers of the modified Rainbow papaya.

On Tuesday, Wille will introduce another proposed amended version that she says exempts papaya farmers from having to adopt “containment measures” but also targets the cultivation of GMO crops for cattle feed.

In other proposed drafts, the growing of crops, such as corn, for cattle feed was included in exemptions to a GMO ban, a long with papaya and the horticulture industry.

In the newest proposed version, the exemption for cattle feed would sunset after two years.

Wille said she is concerned about the continued cultivation of GMO corn, which appears to so far be isolated to the Big Island Dairy on the Hamakua Coast.

The dairy grows the modified corn for its cows.

While corn isn’t a widely grown crop on the island, Wille said she believes that cross-pollination of non-GMO corn with modified varieties could still present itself as an issue.

She said the county has an opportunity to remove GMO corn before it becomes more widely adopted.

“Papaya is all over,” she said. “You can’t really contain it.”

But with corn, Wille added, “The cow is not out of the barn. If we allow corn we would basically be taken over.”

Jason Moniz, president of the Hamakua Farm Bureau, said he believes GMO corn is isolated to the dairy but he added ranchers and dairy owners should be able to grow modified crops.

Moniz said ranchers are looking to grow their own feed to avoid buying feed that’s shipped in, and noted GMO corn, which can be made resistant to pests or herbicides, could help lower their expenses.

“The cost of imported feed is getting higher and higher,” he said.

“If we are to finish more cattle in the state, we need to have options available.”

Groups representing dairy and cattle farmers, nursery owners, and papaya and banana growers have come out against the bill.

Agriculture groups supporting the bill include the Kona Coffee Farmers Association and Hawaii Farmers Union United.

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