Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (foreground, center)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
A national consumer advocacy and environmental group has opened an office in Honolulu in its efforts to pass a law in Hawaii that would require labels to be put on genetically-modified foods.
The Center for Food Safety helped draft such a measure in Vermont, which will be signed into law Thursday. It would require new labels on food products containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
"Here in Hawaii a lot of the questions at the Legislature have been about how do we actually implement labeling at a state level. And what's really great is that Vermont is going to start answering some of those questions," said Ashley Lukens, the program director of the Center for Food Safety's new Honolulu office, which opened April 16.
The center has even established a political action committee here to work toward a Hawaii state law requiring GMO labeling.
"It's the Hawaii Center for Food Safety Action Fund, and we will be getting involved in state level elections this summer and working collaboratively with other organizations," said Lukens.
The Washington D.C.-based organization isn't a stranger to the islands. In 2006, it was involved when the University of Hawaii gave up patents on three hybrids of taro, considered sacred to Native Hawaiians. It also has offered to defend Kauai County's controversial anti-GMO and pesticide bill, aimed at large biotech companies on the Garden Isle.
State lawmakers have failed to pass legislation on GMO labeling, which opponents contend will be hard to enforce and cost more for consumers. One group also believes it isn't necessary.
"Targeting genetically modified foods with mandatory labeling gives the impression that they are more harmful then non-gm foods, which there is no scientific evidence to support," said Kirby Kester, president-elect of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association.
Lukens believes increased awareness means Hawaii could follow Vermont's lead, perhaps as soon as next year.
"With that community energy here in Hawaii, it is inevitable that we will see labeling."