Members of the Kauai County Council know that when it comes to genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, passions on both sides of the issue tend to run high.
When the council hosted a public hearing July 31 on a bill that seeks to regulate the GMO industry, more than 2,000 supporters and opponents appeared at the Kauai Veterans Center.
On Tuesday, an amended version of the same GMO bill faces another round of public testimony during a meeting of the Kauai Council. The meeting is scheduled from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the County Building on Rice Street.
“Every single hearing we’ve had has been standing room only. People are getting in line at 5 o’clock in the morning if not earlier,” said Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser. “Without question, this is the biggest issue… the issue that people are most concerned about on Kauai that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been living on Kauai since 1980.”
Under the amended version of Bill 2491, companies would be forced to disclose the exact location of all GMO crops on Kauai. The measure also requires companies like Dow AgroScience, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Syngenta and BASF to divulge the presence of restricted use pesticides, if five pounds or 15 gallons are purchased or used within a calendar year. Finally, the bill creates pesticide buffer zones of varying distances around schools, parks, roads and even waterways that lead to the ocean.
Hooser, who sponsored the bill with fellow Councilman Tim Bynum, believes he has enough votes for a veto-proof majority.
“We have four votes in committee plus the co-sponsor of the bill, Councilmember Tim Bynum, would make five,” said Hooser. “So, if everybody sticks with what they've already voted, we should have a veto-proof amended bill soon."
However, a final vote on Bill 2491 may have to wait. Hooser said final passage could be delayed if the council can’t get through all of the public testimony during Tuesday’s meeting.
Meanwhile, those who are opposed to the GMO bill say it’s unnecessary and claim supporters have been using pseudo-science to stir up public sentiment.
"We consider it to be unnecessary, primarily because we think that the state has both the resources and trained staff to really enforce and implement state and federal regulations (for pesticides)," said Alicia Maluafiti, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, which represents the agricultural seed industry. “This entire process has been about these exaggerated claims and fear mongering put forth by really extreme viewpoints.”
Not included in the amended version of Bill 2491 is a moratorium on the experimental use and commercial production of GMO crops until an environmental impact study is completed. In addition, the amended bill does not include a ban on the open-air testing of experimental pesticides on the island. Hooser said final passage of the amended version of 2491 would still be a victory for Kauai residents.
“That’s the first step to really answering the many questions facing our community, (and) knowing what chemicals are being sprayed,” said the councilman.
Last month, Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced he is working with Kauai lawmakers on voluntary pesticide notification requirements as well as buffer zones by GMO companies. Maluafiti said she supports the governor’s effort.
“That’s where we believe this type of issue needs to stay, and we think that the governor has made a sincere effort to work with us to do that,” she said.
But, Hooser contends voluntary requirements don’t have the weight of law and GMO companies on Kauai have consistently rebuffed efforts to disclose pesticide use.
“We’ve been asking them for months, if not years, to provide the information and they haven’t voluntarily provided any of it,” said Hooser.