LIHUE — A pair of bills introduced Friday in the Hawaii House and Senate seek to prevent counties from restricting farming beyond state and federal laws.
“It’s a right to farm bill,” said Rep. Dee Morikawa, D-Koloa-Niihau, who co-introduced the measure along with Rep. James “Jimmy” Tokioka, D-Koloa-Wailua.
“It has nothing to do with pesticides or GMOs.”
But others, including Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser, don’t buy it.
“Both of these bills take away 100 percent of the authority of the county to regulate agriculture, which includes pesticides,” he said. “It is without question an attempt to nullify Ordinance 960 (formerly Bill 2491), as well as the ordinance passed on the Big Island.”
Hooser said the bill, if passed, would likely do away with County Ordinance 960, a law passed in November which gives the county the power to regulate pesticide use and genetically modified crop production by Kauai’s largest agricultural entities.
And in December, the mayor of Hawaii Island signed a law that bans new genetically modified crops on the island.
The pair of bills introduced last week would expand the state’s Right to Farm Act of 2001 by adding language that says, “The right of farmers and rangers to engage in modern farming and ranching will be forever guaranteed in this State.”
“No law, ordinance, or resolution of any unit of local government shall be enacted that abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production, and ranching practices not prohibited by federal or state law, rules, or regulations,” it continues.
In a written statement, Morikawa said the new proposal is simply about allowing farmers and ranchers the right to engage in modern farming and ranch practices.
“I am supporting the bill because, if we are truly serious about supporting local farmers and moving toward more food self-reliance in Hawaii, we should be giving the industry the tools it needs to grow food to feed our people,” she wrote. “This measure is intended to do just that.”
Hooser said he was surprised and disappointed that Morikawa and Tokioka would support a measure which tries to take away the Kauai community’s right to protect itself, especially after it went through the democratic process to pass Ordinance 960.
“For the Legislature to act like big brother, that they know better than the county, is just bad policy and bad politics,” he said.
The bill may have an especially difficult path in the House. Chairwoman Jessica Wooley of the House Agriculture Committee said she doesn’t plan to hear the bill.
Wooley said she’d rather focus on other food issues, like food security.
“I’m not going to hear a bill like that until we hear some good bills where there is a lot of common ground,” she said.
The issue of genetically modified foods has been a hot topic among political activists in Hawaii. Activists against genetically modified foods plan a rally at the state Capitol next week.
Earlier this month, three of Kauai’s biotech seed companies filed a federal lawsuit aimed at blocking implementation of Ordinance 960, charging the county with violating the United States and Hawaii constitutions, multiple federal and state laws and the Kauai County Charter.