Kauai council approves controversial GMO bill

Published: Oct. 16, 2013 at 11:00 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 18, 2013 at 3:20 PM HST
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File image from Kauai GMO rally
File image from Kauai GMO rally

In a marathon special meeting that lasted 19 hours, Kaua'i County councilmembers voted to approve a controversial GMO disclosure bill around 3:30 Wednesday morning. Officials say some residents lined up around 3 p.m. Tuesday to participate in the discussion.

"All this time, I've never seen such passion and such interest from the Kauai community on any issue," said Councilman Gary Hooser.

Bill 2491 passed in a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Mel Rapozo casting the only dissenting vote.

According to the Kaua'i County Clerk's office, the amended version of Bill 2491 will require farms to disclose pesticides use and the presence of genetically modified crops if they use more than five pound of 15 gallons of restricted-use pesticides annually.

The bill also requires a 500 foot buffer zone near medical facilities, schools and homes – among other locations.

Supporters say this is a victory for the Kaua'i community's "right to know".

"It's a very important issue in our community and I'm really happy, I'm very pleased with members of the council for passing this bill," said Councilman Hooser, who helped author and introduce the original bill.

"We just are simply asking for the right to know what toxic pesticides are being sprayed and also asking, I have to say, for reasonable buffer zones around schools, hospitals and houses," Hooser added.

Opponents say the bill's intention was never to educate people about pesticide use, but simply an attempt to rid the island of GMO seed companies.

"We're disappointed. We recognize that the most onerous, anti-GMO provisions were removed from the bill, but we still maintain that the county really lacks the resources and the expertise for enforcement and administration of pesticide laws," said Alicia Maluafiti, Executive Director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association.

The council rejected a request by Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. to defer the measure one month, to give him time to gather key stakeholders, like the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, to sort through the bill.

He now has ten days to sign or veto it.

"Veto is not a consideration. I would like to look at the bill and see how we can really work it out, but my final decision will only be after I look at the final draft and I get the county attorney's opinion," Mayor Carvalho said.

If he does sign it, it will take effect in nine months.

Officials say there are stiff criminal and financial penalties. Violators could face up to one year in jail or up to $25,000 a day in fines per offense.

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