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Testimony on GMO Bill Heavy Again; Final Vote Delayed

Posted November 5, 2013, 08:14 PM HST
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As it has numerous times in the past, the subject of GMOs brought out an overflow crowd before county lawmakers. Several dozen more people waited in the foyer outside the council chambers for their chance to testify. Photo by Dave Smith.

A bill that would restrict the use of genetically modified crops on the Big Island came up again today before the Hawai`i County Council, and once again lengthy testimony resulted in a decision being delayed.

More than 80 people signed up to testify at the Hilo council chambers today, with dozens more giving their two minutes of testimony via videoconferencing from satellite council offices in Kona, Waimea and Puna.

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After convening the special-session meeting at 2 p.m., council members heard more than four hours of testimony before calling a recess shortly after 6 p.m. The matter will be taken up again on Nov. 19.

A regular meeting of the council is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday, but the bill cannot be considered then because it is not listed on the agenda.

Bill 113 was approved on the first of two required readings on Oct. 16.

Hawai`i County Council members listen to testimony during today's meeting on a bill restricting use of GMOs on the Big Island. Photo by Dave Smith.

Hawai`i County Council members listen to testimony during today’s meeting on a bill restricting use of GMOs on the Big Island. Photo by Dave Smith.

The bill would ban the open-air cultivation of genetically engineered crops or plants. It would exempt farmers currently growing genetically engineered plants such as papayas designed to resist the ringspot virus, but would require them to register with the county.

Today was at least the seventh time the council has heard testimony on the subject of genetically modified organisms or GMOs, and the third time that lengthy testimony pushed a decision to another day.

Testimony in favor of the bill was varied, with many saying that GMOs are unhealthy, and a threat to pollinate other crops, including those on organic farms.

Others, such as state Sen. Russell Ruderman, portrayed the matter as farmers against big business – with many speakers singling out the giant biotechnology company Monsanto.

“This is people versus corporations, pure and simple,” Ruderman told council members.

Opponents of the measure said it runs counter to scientific evidence which has shown the safety of GMO crops. Others said the bill would tie the hands of farmers by not allowing them to make use of the latest agriculture technology.

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