Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pro-GMO "Pre-emptive" bill moves forward

Rep. Clift Tsugi and Speaker Calvin Say are at it again. Tsugi's House Agriculture Committee has passed a "preemptive bill," House Bill 1226, and which would essentially prevent any state or county law prohibiting or regulating genetically modified organisms. The bill does exempt existing laws and ordinances, such as the one passed by the County Council of Hawaii last year that bans GMO Taro and coffee on the island. It also specifically exempts Hawaiian taro, though it doesn't define what "Hawaiian taro" is. But if HB 1226 passes, no other place in Hawaii will be able to control whether or not GM crops aside from Hawaiian taro are grown there, or be able to regulate how those crops are grown.

In his report on the bill, Tsugi justified its passage on the grounds that "biotechnology will become increasingly important in the future to feed the population of the United States and the world, and meet their energy demands. Scientific research and improvement of food and energy crops will be necessary to increase productivity, yield, quality, and drought, pest, or disease resistance."

"In the agricultural industry of Hawaii, the seed corn component now ranks second," he notes--second, presumably, in profits generated, since a number of crops occupy more acreage. It's questionable how much of that money stays in the state, since those seed corn crops mostly are being grown for large corporations, and sold by those corporations to farmers elsewhere. But GMOs are also moneymaker of the University of Hawaii, as well, since the University holds some important patents in that area.

The bill, however, is bad news for organic farmers, who may face cross-contamination of modified genes from nearby GM fields. That's already happened to organic farmers on this island, some of whom have had to destroy CM-contaminated papaya trees. It's bad news, especially, for organic honey producers, especially, since they won't even know if their bees are bringing pollen from GM crops back to the hive. And its bad news for most farmers who want to export their crops, since much of the world still doesn't accept GM products. And it's bad news for anyone who want to plant seed not bought from a corporation, since GM plants are patented by the company that modifies it and cannot be grown without permission from that company.

"This is serious stuff, to take away home rule, to prohibit labeling, forever," wrote local food activist Nancy Redfeather in a letter circulating on the Net. Redfeather and other activists are urging opponents of the bill to contact Dwight Takamine and other members of the Senate Agricultural Committee, which will have to vote on the bill if it crosses over.

Speaker Say and Tsugi, last year, helped to kill a bill to protect taro and coffee growers from GM contamination, when the ag committee inserted preemptive language similar to that of the current bill at the last moment. At that time, I asked Tsuji who had introduced the amendment, and he wouldn't say. This year, though, we know that Say, himself, introduced the bill.

This year, they appear to have conceded on Hawaiian taro,but want to make sure that no other crop, including coffee, has protection from genetic tinkering.
In addition to Tsugi(D-S. Hilo, Upper Puna)the bill got support from one other Big Islander: Cindy Evans (D-North Kona, Kohala.

Similar bills have been introduced in a number of other states, pushed by corporate agribusiness lobbyists. According to local farm activist Wally Andrade, who has been tracking the issue, 16 other states rejected such bills so far.

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