Council Committee to Consider Two GMO Bills
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by Dave Smith
A County Council committee will take up two new bills tomorrow involving the growing of genetically modified crops on the Big Island.
One of the bills to be heard by the Committee on Public Safety & Mass Transit would ban the growing of transgenic papayas, including the Rainbow and SunUp varieties developed in response to the ringspot virus.
Introduced by Councilwoman Brenda Ford, Bill 109 would give growers of those strains 30 months to curtail operations. After that, farmers growing them could be subject to several penalties, including a fine of up to $1,000 per day.
Ford has reportedly said that she believes her fellow council members could amend her bill to remove the ban on transgenic papayas. She said she included the clause because that was the wish of many of the hundreds of people who came before the council to testify on a previous bill restricting genetically modified organisms, also known as GMOs.
That bill, which was introduced by Councilwoman Margaret Wille, was withdrawn last month after four days of testimony.
The committee, which meets in the Hilo council chambers at 1:30 p.m., will also take up Bill 113, Wille’s latest bill on the matter.
That measure would allow the growing of transgenic papayas but would ban the cultivation of all other GMOs.
Eric Weinert, general manager of Calavo Growers Inc. and a member of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, said he doesn’t believe Ford’s bill will survive in its current form.
“I don’t see the council putting the papaya industry out of business,” he said.
The association ran an open letter Sunday in a local newspaper critical of Wille’s efforts to grant papaya growers an exemption to the GMO ban.
Any ban on transgenic crops is not based on science, Weinert said, and would taint all such crops.
“We’re not going to be divided and conquered,” he said, adding that the proposed ban “harms our market and casts negativity on our papaya industry.”
He said the consensus of scientists is that GMOs are safe.
He said for proof one need look no further than Japan, which lifted its ban on the Rainbow papaya in 2011.