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Emotional, mud-slinging debate brings out more than 100 testifiers

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Mar 21 2013 06:09:00 PM HST

 It was expected to die earlier this week, but public outcry over a GMO food labeling bill forced the issued to be heard.

HONOLULU -

"Look around. With all due respect you cannot deny the will of the people forever," began Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff.

And this time, senators did not.

"We received thousands and thousands of emails for me and my colleagues," said Sen. Josh Green, chair of the Senate health committee.

For the first time, senators held a hearing on a bill to label genetically modified foods.

Well over 100 testifiers came out to say their peace.

"I'm not here opposed to science, I'm here opposed to emotion on this issue," said one opponent of the bill.

"The problem with this labeling thing is it creates fear," said an Oahu papaya farmer.

"While there are problems with this bill as written, the job of this body is to fix these problems, so that the people of Hawaii can get what they're asking for," said the University of Hawaii law student Christiaan Mitchell.

"I'm glad you had the hearing. I really am," said another testifier.

GMO seed companies and employees were well represented at the hearing, who said they are often targeted for their work.

"The attacks have been personal, widespread and purposefully misleading just like House Bill 174," said Fred Perlak, head of operations for Monsanto Hawaii.

Lawmakers against the bill said, even if they passed it into law, it would immediately run into federal and constitutional road blocks that would ultimately shut it down.

"To this day, in 50 states, the answer is no. The FDA has always preempted all of that," said agriculture committee chair Sen. Clarence Nishihara, who opposes the bill.

Ultimately committee members shot down the bill on Thursday, ending another year and another battle over GMOs, though everyone there had lots of fight left for their cause.

"In order to solve this problem we got to go step, by step, by step, and not just say no, no, no," said Molokai activist Walter Ritte.

"It's obviously pretty tough issues we need to unravel," said Nishihara.  

"We're making progress today. That's important. We know this issue is not going away so let's work together," said Green.

Committees are now working on a resolution that would recommend major institutions and departments in Hawaii study the safety of GMOS and the possibility of labeling.

That research would end up as recommendations for the next legislative session.

Click here to watch Lara Yamada's report on your mobile device.

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