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Bill to protect taro put off


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POSTED: Monday, May 11, 2009

Hawaii lawmakers could not agree on a ban on genetic modification of Hawaiian taro this year.

The measure would have prevented alterations of sacred Hawaiian taro varieties but allowed alterations of non-Hawaiian taro varieties in laboratory environments.

Versions of the bill passed both the state House and Senate, but House Agriculture Committee Chairman Clifton Tsuji says it needs more consideration and will be brought up again next year. Tsuji says he wants to respect the cultural concerns of Hawaiians while still allowing scientists to explore ways to shield taro from diseases. He is also awaiting recommendations of the Taro Security and Purity Task Force, which the Legislature set up to collaborate on the issue.

More than 300 varieties of taro, or kalo, may have existed at the time European explorers arrived. Today there are about 70 varieties, the majority unique to the Hawaiian Islands.