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Bill Would Require ‘Made in Hawaii’ Labels for Ag Products

February 26, 2014, 5:41 PM HST (Updated February 27, 2014, 12:28 PM)
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A bill that would mandate the use of “Made in Hawaii” labeling for local agricultural products was approved today during a joint meeting of three state Senate committees.

Senate Bill 111 would require that the state Board of Agriculture establish requirements for the labeling by July 1, 2015.

According to the bill’s Draft 2, the requirement would apply to retailers, distributors, farmers and producers “that sell agricultural commodities for purchase or consumption by consumers.”

Under its current wording, the label could also say “produced in Hawaii” or otherwise indicate that the product originated as being from any place within the state.

The bill was approved unanimously by members of the Agriculture, Commerce and Consumer Protection, and Ways and Means committees.

Written testimony submitted to the committees was mostly critical of the legislation.

The state Department of Agriculture said that such a move may be pre-empted by federal regulations, which already require country of origin labeling for a variety of agricultural commodities. Those regulations also govern state-level origin labeling, DOA Director Scott Enright said.

Although not mentioned in Enright’s testimony, the Department of Agriculture already has a similar program with an established logo.

The Hawaii Seal of Quality program launched in 2006 provides for one-year licensing agreements for 100% Hawaii-produced agricultural or food products.

The logo for the Department of Agriculture's existing Seal of Quality program. HDOA image.

The logo for the Department of Agriculture’s existing Seal of Quality program. HDOA image.

Lauren Zirbel, executive director of the Hawaii Food Industry Association comprised of 200 retailers, producers and distributors, asked that the organization be involved in any discussion of the labeling requirement.

Also weighing in was the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, which said the bill needed to be more precise in its requirements to prevent non-Hawaiian-grown ingredients in the products.

The association’s testimony said at the very least, the bill should require that products labeled Hawaiian should have a minimum of 51% Hawaii-grown content.

“The Hawaii Legislature should provide the same types of label and marketing protection for Hawaii farmers as California has provided to its Napa Valley grape growers, Idaho has provided for Idaho potato farmers, Vermont has provided for Vermont maple sugar producers, and Georgia has provided to Vidalia onion farmers,” said Bruce Corker, chair of the group’s Legislative Committee.

There are already labeling requirements in place for Kona coffee which mandate that packages state the percentage of Kona coffee they contain. Kona coffee growers have been unsuccessful, however, in attempts to require disclosure of the origin of other coffee in blends.

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