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Legislature takes up GMO debate

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Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 12:45 am

LIHU‘E — State lawmakers have begun this year’s Legislature with a pile of bills targeting biotech industries that produce genetically modified organisms, with measures ranging from mandatory labeling to a total ban of such products in Hawai‘i.

House Bill 107 seeks to prohibit testing taro for genetic-modification purposes in the entire state, a ban which has been in effect on Big Island since November 2008 and in Maui County since October 2009, according to the bill.

HB 107 was introduced Friday and passed first reading on the same day, but it has not been referred to any committee yet.

Arguably the most ambitious bill, HB 349 seeks to stop GMO products from being sold or distributed in Hawai‘i as early as Jan. 1, 2014.

The passage of this bill (which is unlikely) would cause unparalleled consequences to the state’s food supplies — GMO industry officials told the Kaua‘i County Council at a Nov., 2011, meeting that as much as 90 percent of products sold in stores nowadays contain GMO ingredients.

As of Friday, the bill was still pending introduction.

HB 349 and many of the proposed GMO-regulatory bills would exempt from the law any GMO products served in restaurants, bars or other food establishments, as well as any “medical food” containing GMOs.

Senate Bill 615 seeks to prohibit sales of genetically engineered fish or genetically engineered fish products in Hawai‘i, starting Jan. 1, 2014, unless appropriately labeled as genetically engineered or produced, or partially produced with genetic engineering.

HB 174 requires, as early as Jan. 1, 2014, “specific labeling for any food or raw agricultural commodity” which contains or was produced with a genetically engineered material.

Under this proposal, products containing GMOs would have a bold-face print that would read, “This product contains a genetically-engineered material or was produced with a genetically-engineered material.”

HB 174, passed first reading Friday, but has not yet been referred to any committee.

SB 468 proposes the same labeling, penalties and exemptions as HB 174. The bill was still pending introduction as of Friday.

HB 348 also calls for labeling GMO products, but its effective date would be July 1, 2014, and labeling of products containing GMOs would be, “This product contains a genetically engineered food product, which may be harmful to human health.”

While HB 174 calls for penalties of up to $1,000 for each offense, HB 348 calls for much stiffer penalties, of up to $10,000 for each offense.

Both bills, just like HB 349, exempt food establishments and medical foods from compliance.

As of Friday, HB 348 was still pending introduction.

On the flipside of labeling proposals, two bills propose to regulate labeling of foods which do not contain GMO products.

HB 627 allows food offered for sale to carry a label stating, “not genetically engineered” or “does not include a genetically engineered ingredient,” provided that the statement is true.

HB 631 does basically the same as HB 627, but it makes a false statement a violation and allows anyone to seek an injunction to prevent or terminate the violation. The bill doesn’t include monetary values for violations, but allows prevailing persons or public agencies in a lawsuit to seek reimbursement for attorney fees and other associated costs.

HB 627 and HB 631 would go into effect July 1, 2013, but as of Friday, the bills were still pending introduction. Rep. Derek Kawakami, D-14th District, co-introduced both bills.

SB 613 would strip certain tax exemptions and other incentives from GMO industry companies that produce food which are not for direct human consumption. The bill was introduced Friday, and if passed, would go into effect July 1, 2013.

HB 479 would also repeal the eligibility of the GMO industry from certain tax incentives. As of Friday, the bill was still pending introduction.

SB 370 and HB 97 require a permit from the state Department of Agriculture to import, introduce or develop a new species of GMO.

These bills would allow the state, after a public hearing, to determine whether to grant a permit and under what conditions, if any, based on the department’s determination of the level of risk presented to agriculture, horticulture, the environment, animal or public health.

Both bills were introduced Friday, and HB 97 passed first reading on the same day.

Visit www.capitol.hawaii.gov for more information or to track the bills.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

© 2015 Thegardenisland.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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