The Hawaii County Council, the governing council for the Big Island of Hawaii, voted 6 to 3 for a bill that bans genetically modified organisms (GMO) from being grown on the island. Bill 113 the bill imposes “restrictions on the cultivation, propagation, development, and testing of genetically engineered crops and plants to protect public and private property as well as surface waters, vulnerable watersheds, and our Island's coastal waters.”
The bill would levy a $1,000 fine per day for violations and those found violating would be responsible for “all costs of investigation,” including attorneys fees and any damages that result to neighboring non-GMO crops or plants. Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi has 10 days to either sign the bill into law or veto it. If he vetoes it, the Hawaii County Council could override it with an affirmative vote from six of its members. Last weekend, Kauai County Council overrode Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s veto of a bill that requires farmers to report to the county any GMO crops being grown.
Council member Margaret Wille introduced the bill and voted in favor of it. "We are at a juncture — do we move forward in the direction of the agro-chemical monoculture model of agriculture, or do we move toward eco-friendly, diversified farming?" Wille told Civil Beat after the vote. "There is no sacred cow when it comes to how do we protect the future health of the island and the kids," she said.
The bill exempts papaya growers because, over the last decade papaya has “become so pervasive across this island,” that restricting its cultivation “would would be near impossible at this time.” GMO papaya was first “commercially released into Hawaii’s growing environment” in 1998, according to the non-profit organization, Hawaii Seed. The organization GMO Free Hawaii became concerned about contamination in 2003, and conducted tests, which revealed that 30 to 50 percent of the non-GMO papaya seeds and leaves had some kind of air or seed contamination. A year latter, GMO Free Hawaii conducted another study on about 10,000 seeds from three islands (Hawaii, Oahu, and Kauai) that were collected from non-GMO growing locations. The seeds were sent to an independent laboratory, which found that 50 percent of the papaya seeds from Hawaii Island were contaminated with GMO papaya. The same tests conducted in 2006 found similar results.
Hawaii Island is not the only place considering banning GMO cultivation. Los Angeles also has a city ordinance on the table banning GMO cultivation, sale and distribution within the second most populated city in the U.S. "The pending ordinance would be symbolic more than anything else, but we do feel it's an important step to have the second-largest city in the nation declare itself as against genetically modified seeds," said head of Learning Garden and Seed Library of LA David King, who assisted in creating the Los Angeles City Council motion.
Earlier this month, Washington voters narrowly rejected a voting initiative, I-522 which would have required GMO food products to be labeled. An almost identical initiative was also narrowly defeated last year by California voters. Several states have introduced GMO labeling legislation. Connecticut is one of those states and the legislation was passed by both the state house and senate in June, and Governor Daniel P. Malloy signed it into law, making it the first state in the nation to require GMO foods to be labeled.
Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.