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Council seeks labeling requirements for genetically engineered foods

By Staff | Oct 4, 2012

After a couple of scheduling hiccups and a much-appreciated time extension granted by the Hawaii State Association of Counties’ (HSAC) Executive Committee, Maui County was once again able to pass the proposed GMO (genetically modified organism) labeling resolution on to the HSAC Legislative Committee for inclusion in the draft HSAC package for this upcoming state legislative session. The resolution was passed unanimously, with members Gladys Baisa and Don Couch voting with reservations and Mike White excused.

The resolution addresses the concern that the long-term effects of consuming genetically engineered foods are unclear, and that without the mandatory labeling requirements of these foods, consumers may unknowingly be putting their health at risk. The resolution was drafted around the consumer’s right-to-know what is in food available for sale, so that they can make informed purchasing choices.

Last year, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii County all voted to include this resolution in the HSAC package with the intention of sending a unified message to state legislators that our counties support having the right-to-know. Unfortunately, the resolution died because the City and County of Honolulu did not support it.

This year, we are trying diligently once again to garner the support of all of the counties to pass this resolution for inclusion in the HSAC package. (Hawaii County also submitted a proposed GMO labeling resolution to the HSAC package.) If our resolution is supported by all four councils and passed at the State Legislature, it would require that beginning Jan. 1, 2014, no food or raw agriculture commodity would be sold in the state if it contains a genetically engineered material, or was produced with a genetically engineered material, unless it bears a label that provides the following disclosure notice in bold-faced print and not less than ten-point type: “THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS A GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MATERIAL, OR WAS PRODUCED WITH A GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MATERIAL.”

A food will be considered to have been produced with genetically engineered material if the organism from which the food is derived has been injected or otherwise treated with a genetically engineered material; the animal from which the food is derived has been fed genetically engineered material; or if the food contains an ingredient that is produced in either of the aforementioned ways.

The first step in passing this important legislation is to ensure that it is included in the HSAC package. If you feel strongly that you have a right-to-know what you are buying, consuming and feeding your families, it would be helpful if you pass those sentiments along via written testimony to the Oahu City Council members urging them for their support. The only active council member on Oahu showing strong support for such legislation is Councilman Tom Berg (tberg@honolulu.gov). (Former Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard also supports GMO labeling but is no longer an active Oahu council member, as she is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.)

Discussion on the draft HSAC package for each of the four councils will take place during the month of November. Please feel free to submit your testimony from now through November. You can send your sentiments to the Oahu council members through these e-mail addresses: Ernest Martin at emartin@honolulu.gov, Ikaika Anderson at ianderson@honolulu.gov, Romy Cachola at rcachola@honolulu.gov, Nestor Garcia at ngarcia@honolulu.gov, Stanley Chang at ccldistrict4@honolulu.gov, Ann Kobayashi at akobayashi@honolulu.gov and Breene Harimoto at bharimoto@honolulu.gov.

In addition to the HSAC GMO labeling resolution being passed in Maui County, we also passed an identical resolution for inclusion in the Maui County package that will serve as backup if the HSAC resolution is stifled once more. A unified front being represented to the state legislators would be ideal, but regardless of what happens in the Oahu Council this November, Maui County will be sending over our objectives nonetheless.

The vocal support that we received indicates that this issue is very important to many residents in all four of our counties. I would like to thank all of the testifiers that took the time to offer testimony in person and that e-mailed their testimony in support of the resolution being passed in Maui County. Your voices are being heard, and your hard work and persistence are appreciated. Council members are put in office by the people to work for the people. We appreciate your time and participation in the process.