State apologizes after attempt to enforce rule that threatened aquaponics industry

State apologizes after attempt to enforce aquaponics rule it now says is outdated
Updated: Mar. 1, 2018 at 8:33 PM HST
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KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - A South Kona aquaponics farmer was told by the Health Department Friday that a restaurant would not be allowed to buy her crops.

The message came after a restaurant customer complained about an insect part traced to the farm's lettuce.

Following the complaint, the Department of Health decided to enforce a state rule against selling raw produce grown using water contaminated by animals.

Aquaponics raises plants without soil -- cultivated with water from fish tanks. Enforcing the rules could threaten all aquaponics farmers.

And now, the Health Department said while it was enforcing the rule impacting Liesel Santimer, of Waiea Aquaponics, it's now backing off.

Peter Oshiro, Environmental Health program manager, told Hawaii News Now it will repeal the outdated rule because research shows aquaponics produce is no more of a risk than produce grown in the soil.

"The enforcement action results when we tell the food establishment that they cannot purchase so inadvertently the farm is not able to move their product," he said. "We apologize for the initial thing, but our job is to protect public health. People on the ground, they are there to enforce law."

Santimer, meanwhile, said the Health Department acted inappropriately.

"I don't understand how you can go from one incident and now you are going to shut down all the aquaponics farmers," she said.

With dozens of aquaponics farms throughout Hawaii, farmers say they're relieved this controversy was weeded out.

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