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Council Votes to Restrict GMOs, Ban Fracking

Posted October 16, 2013, 05:26 PM HST Updated October 16, 2013, 06:16 PM HST
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A bill that would ban genetically modified crops on the Big Island contains an exemption for GMO papayas. HDOA photo.

The County Council today gave preliminary approval to a bill restricting the use of genetically modified crops on the Big Island.

Meeting in Kona, the council voted 6-2 in favor of a bill introduced by Waimea Councilwoman Margaret Wille that establishes a fine of up to $1,000 for anyone who knowingly engages “in the open air cultivation, propagation, development or testing of genetically engineered crops or plants.”

The bill still requires a second favorable vote before it is sent to Mayor Billy Kenoi for his consideration.

Bill 113 exempts the growing of genetically engineered papaya, although it requires that those farmers register with the county Department of Research and Development. They would also be required to pay a $100 fee for each location where such crops are grown.

Before today’s vote, Wille amended the bill to withhold from the public the names of the farmers and the exact location where the GMO papayas are grown.

That was apparently in response to concerns expressed by papaya growers that making such information public would put their farms at risk of being targeted by anti-GMO activists.

Those concerns followed several instances of vandalism over the past several years in which orchards of GMO papaya trees in the Kapoho area were cut down by unknown persons wielding machetes.

Genetically modified varieties of papaya have been credited with saving the island’s papaya industry after it was devastated by the ringspot virus in the 1990s.

The bill was further amended to include an “emergency exemption” which would allow farmers a “genetically engineered remedy” to combat plant pestilence. The exemption would require approval from the council and would only be allowed if there is no other alternative solution.

Those voting against the bill were Hilo councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi and Councilman Greggor Ilagan, who represents the northern part of lower Puna where many papaya farms are located. Councilman Zendo Kern, who represents the southern part of lower Puna, was not present for the vote.

The council today also voted 9-0 to give final approval to a bill banning anyone drilling wells on the Big Island from using hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

Fracking, which uses water and chemicals pumped under high pressure to fracture underground layers of rock, has been employed on the mainland to extract oil and natural gas from layers of shale.

Fracking has not been used in Hawaii by the geothermal industry, and critics of the bill say it is not needed because of the nature of the Big Island’s geology.

Bill 129, introduced by South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford, said that no independent scientific investigation has been undertaken to examine the risks of hydraulic fracturing here.

The bill establishes fines of up to $25,000 for violations, and also imposes a fine of up to $10,000 per day for interfering with inspections of drilling operations.

Bill 129 will now be sent to Kenoi who can either sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.

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