Big Island farmer refuses to register GMO crops

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Mar 05 2014 10:40:06 PM HST
Updated On: Mar 05 2014 10:53:10 PM HST

A papaya farmer is suing Hawaii County over a law that requires farmers to disclose information about their business.

HILO, Hawaii -

Big Island Farmer Delan "Rusty" Perry says he resisted planting genetically modified plants at first, but after the Ring Spot Virus decimated papaya crops, he changed his mind.

Click here to watch Lara Yamada's report.

"You learn something in agriculture. Things change and you best learn how to change with it," said Perry.

But in recent years, he says he's watched and worried as vandals attacked GMO crops -- chopping down hundreds of trees, including what would have been the college fund for one farmer's kids.

"It was all cut down like this, as low as this," said Erlinda Bernardo, a Big Island farmer. "We were just kind of worried what would happen to the other farmers.

Now, Perry says he is refusing to register his business under a new law, even as that deadline hits.

Just this week, another farmer sued the county saying revealing his location could lead to vandalism and jeopardize growing techniques "that give him a competitive advantage in the marketplace."

The law requires farmers to say who they are, what they grow, and where.

"You're always at risk of people that want to steal it, destroy it or just damage it for the hell of it," said Perry.

"I think it's outrageous," said Councilwoman Margaret Wille.

Wille is sponsoring the bill and says the law is meant to protect all farmers, including non-GMO farmers who often do not know where other crops are grown.

"There's no law that protects them. There's no federal law. There's no state law that protects someone who's contaminated," said Wille.

A lack of information is fueling tougher regulations for farmers on both sides of the table.

'Here's the county coming in and trying to get some understanding of what's going on …. And they're sitting around whining saying 'We don't want to tell anybody anything,'" said Wille.

Wille says farmers have already had 90 days to register with the deadline ending Wednesday. After that, they could be fined up to $1,000 a day.

A challenge to that requirement heads to court in Hilo on Friday. Judge Greg Nakamura will hear arguments on whether the county should drop that deadline.

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