Hawaii lawmakers may create bill on GMOs, pesticides

HONOLULU (AP) – State lawmakers are considering legislation affecting genetically modified crops and pesticides now that several counties have taken steps to regulate them.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Clarence Nishihara said he hopes the governor will make clear that the state has the authority to pre-empt the county initiatives. But Nishihara said he will likely propose a state pre-emption bill next year if Gov. Neil Abercrombie doesn’t take the lead, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Kauai County recently moved to require large farms to disclose their use of pesticides and genetically modified crops. The Hawaii County Council on Wednesday approved a bill restricting the planting of genetically modified crops. Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi plans to decide next week whether he will veto the bill.

Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, after observing developments in Kauai and Hawaii counties, announced Wednesday that he signed a pesticide disclosure agreement with agricultural giant Monsanto, which has farms on Maui and Molokai.

Abercrombie spokeswoman Christine Hirasa said the administration supports local farmers vital to Hawaii’s long-term sustainability and is working to expand the state’s agriculture industry.

“Any decisions to impose additional regulations above and beyond those already established by federal regulatory agencies should be based on proven science,” she said in a statement. “The administration will continue to work toward a regulatory structure that protects and balances the needs of farmers, Hawaii’s agricultural industry and the people of Hawaii.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Rep. Jessica Wooley said she would oppose pre-empting the counties unless it was part of a broader agreement with the counties and others on regulating genetically modified organisms.

“I would not support pre-emption unless we had some significant guarantees in place for all the people who have been so concerned about this issue,” she said.

The courts likely will decide whether the county laws are legal, she said.

Wooley said she would again call for labeling genetically modified produce sold in the state. Her labeling bill passed the House last session but did not advance in the Senate.

Sen. Mike Gabbard, who chairs the Senate environment committee, said he’s looking at bills requiring labeling for genetically modified foods and greater disclosure of pesticide use. He said he’s encouraged that lawmakers are listening to people’s concerns about genetically modified organisms.

“I commend the Kauai County Council for taking steps to address health concerns related to the use of pesticides and I also respect Hawaii County Council’s right to go with a GMO ban,” Gabbard said in an email.

He said he wouldn’t pre-empt the ability of counties to act on the issue.