Bean certification is tempest in a coffee pot
A Kona coffee industry group, at odds with farmers, wants the state to impose regulations on the growers.
ABSENT a compelling need, government should refrain from imposing rules on businesses and industries, particularly if regulation could impede competition or harm enterprises.
Without evidence that Kona farmers are damaging Hawaii's unique coffee industry by selling counterfeit Kona coffee, the state Department of Agriculture should not saddle them further with red tape. In addition, consideration should be given to stricter labeling of Hawaii-branded brews and products to protect the prized, high-quality coffee for which Kona is renown.
The call for a new level of certification comes from a major coffee seller, who concedes he has no knowledge of anyone here using deceptive practices to pass off a non-Kona product as the premium bean.
Jim Wayman, chief executive of Hawaii Coffee Co., is pushing the state to require all farmers and anyone who processes and sells the coffee to have their products certified.
At present, state law sensibly allows growers in the Kona district to roast beans for sale without certification, simply because of location. Certification is reserved for unroasted beans shipped out of the region to prevent fraud.
Expanding certification would unduly burden farmers and could hamper their ability to sell their harvest directly to consumers who are willing to pay higher prices for pure Kona, rather than the more common, cheaper blends that generally contain no more than 10 percent of the premium beans.
These coffee mixes, allowed by state law to carry the Kona name, arguably have caused more harm to the Kona reputation. Moreover, lack of federal protections for Hawaii's product means that outside the state, any coffee can masquerade as Kona.
The conflict over certification continues a struggle between Wayman and farmers, many of whom have withdrawn from the Hawaii Coffee Association, an industry group he chairs, because they feel its mission leans toward those who retail rather than grow coffee.
Wayman's heavy-handed tactics have fueled the conflict. In the certification skirmish, he threatened to initiate an ad campaign that would claim that uncertified Kona "may not be genuine." Though he says his threat wasn't serious, such an effort could hurt the Kona name more than it would help.
There are many problems with the Kona coffee industry that need fixing, but this isn't one of them. The state should set this non-issue aside and tackle the real ones.