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Labeling genetically modified food in Hawaii gains ground

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Feb 07 2013 06:55:00 PM HST

For the first time ever in this state, two bills have passed committee hearings to label genetically modified organisms.

HONOLULU -

"People are very concerned we have failed to address this issue," said newly-appointed House agriculture chair Rep. Jessica Wooley.

She said her committee finally passed a bill on Thursday that would require all imported GMO whole foods, meaning fresh produce, are labeled.

And long-time GMO labeling advocate Sen. Mike Gabbard said, for the first time, a GMO bill passed out of the Senate Energy & Environment committee.

The Senate version is broader and would require labeling all genetically engineered fish products sold in Hawaii as well as whole foods - most likely meaning papaya and corn.

"I want to be able to tell when I buy my papaya, whether it’s conventional, organic or GMO. Just put a label on it," said Gabbard.

In 2012, the now former chair of the House agriculture committee shot down all bills related to GMOs.

But in 2013, Rep. Clift Tsuji supported two bills to label non-GMOs.

"I thought this was a good alternative that was palatable for those who supported and for those who did not," said Tsuji.

"But that would cost us money for folks for Hawaii's everyday farmers," said Wooley, who deferred Tsuji's bills.

At one of the state's last packing houses on the Big Island, distributors are already labeling GMO papaya headed to Japan.

They said most companies they work with are already paying for some kind of label, and whether it's local farmers paying for it or mainland, the cost is cheap.

GMO seed companies in Hawaii have long opposed broader labeling measures.

Wooley said what happened Thursday represents a big first step.

"If it is controversial, I think we have to address it. At least look at the problem, and how do we solve it," said Wooley.

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