Taro bill goes too far in stifling laws on modified plants
A bill to ban genetic experimentation with Hawaiian taro for five years also would ban other laws on genetically modified plants.
LEGISLATION to ban genetic modification of Hawaiian varieties of taro temporarily also would permanently ban the state and counties from passing laws or setting rules to control genetically modified plants of any kind.
In attempting to assure the influential agricultural biotechnology industry that the five-year moratorium on taro experiments does not mean it is no longer welcome in Hawaii, lawmakers have gone too far. The added provision is too far reaching and has unexamined consequences too numerous to be inserted in a measure proposed narrowly for one native crop.
The bill should be modified to eliminate the amendment before final consideration.
If the House Agriculture Committee wants to assuage the fears of the industry, it can do that simply by stating so, but tying the state's hands and intruding on counties' home rule without full discussion of the issue is bad policy. Whether the committee, chaired by Rep. Clifton Tsuji, intended to expand the measure's scope or just made a mistake is unclear. It would not be a rare occurrence for lawmakers to "poison" a bill to make its passage more difficult or to give them a way out.
When the House received the original bill from the Senate, it focused solely on seeking a 10-year embargo on genetic modifications of the estimated 70 varieties of taro unique to Hawaii. Some taro farmers and others objected to altering a plant at the heart of Hawaiian culture while researchers, scientists and other taro farmers argued that a ban could harm efforts to protect taro from diseases that have destroyed crops in other areas of the world.
The measure was revised to allow a moratorium for five years and only on Hawaiian varieties. The compromise does not completely satisfy any of the interested parties, but gets lawmakers out from under a difficult situation for the time being. They should anticipate that when the moratorium expires, the conflict will not have similarly expired.
In changing the bill, the committee noted that the taro moratorium "may be interpreted as a signal to the world that biotechnology will no longer be welcome in Hawaii," and that the "notion must be negated."
Biotech companies likely would understand that the ban is confined to taro for reasons that would not apply to corn or soybeans, but apparently the panel felt it was necessary to bend over backward to mollify the industry by removing nearly all obstacles to genetic modification practices in the islands, except when prohibited by land use or county zoning ordinances. The bill would even disallow county regulations on labeling, advertising, packaging and use of genetically modified plants.
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