Testimony from: Kauai County Councilmember Gary Hooser
Re: HB97 Agriculture; Genetically Modified Organisms: Quarantine
Hearing: Monday February 4, 2013 Committee on Agriculture
Position: Strong Support – Suggest Amendments
My name is Gary Hooser, I am an elected member of the Kauai County Council and am speaking today on my own behalf as an individual.
I am in strong support of this measure which requires a permit prior to the importation, introduction or development of a new genetically modified organism into the State of Hawaii.
It is important to point out that this measure if passed into law impacts only “new” genetically modified organisms and thus will not significantly affect the existing operations of companies now operating in Hawaii.
The importation, introduction and development of new transgenic life forms into Hawaii’s fragile and unique environment deserve the highest level of scrutiny. The jobs and economic activity generated are important components in the decision making however the health and welfare of Hawaii’s people and environment must take precedence.
It is a given that lobbyists for the GMO industry and supporters of industrial farming will be submitting testimony claiming that “the sky is falling” and that passage of HB97 will severely and negatively impact their business, cost jobs and drive these companies to other friendlier locations –
However, the requirement of obtaining a permit and undergoing a basic level of review by a State regulatory agency that includes a single public hearing is by no stretch of the imagination an onerous or excessive requirement. Given the potential severity of the consequences should there be accidental release of a new plant or animal transgenic species mutation into our natural environment; I do not believe a single public hearing is too much to ask.
While I strongly support HB97, I also strongly suggest that the measure be amended to explicitly state that as a condition of a permits approval the department shall require a HRS Chapter 343 environmental review demonstrating that there will be no significant environmental impacts and/or recommending adequate mitigation measures to ensure proper environmental protections.
The potential impacts that could result from the importation, introduction and development of new transgenic life forms into Hawaii include impacts on existing endangered species, existing conventional and organic agricultural operations and the health impacts on local residents that may arise from increased use and related testing of pesticides/herbicides.
On Kauai there are presently 4 major companies engaged in the importation, introduction and/or development and propagation of genetically modified organisms. These companies utilize over 12,000 acres for their industrial farming operations focused on the development of transgenic crops, 80% of which are not intended for human consumption. Much of the land in which this activity occurs is in close proximity to the homes of residents and along sensitive coastal areas. The impacts from these industrial farming operations on local residents and on Hawaii’s environment has never been properly studied or evaluated. No one really knows the totality of what is being grown or what is being sprayed into the air, onto the soil or what is being washed into our streams and water systems. As a council member on Kauai I am presently asking these questions and though I have been told the information is available and is forthcoming, I have yet to receive anything.
* There are currently two lawsuits pending on Kauai representing over 200 west-side residents alleging negative health impacts from the pesticide laden dust caused by companies engaged in the development of these transgenic crops.
* Less than one year ago there was a “sea urchin die-off” estimated to include over 52,000 sea urchins that occurred in near shore waters that receive the run-off from these operations.
* Students and teachers from the Waimea Canyon School have become ill and been transported by ambulance to nearby hospitals on several occasions. Though no scientific evidence has proved that the illness was a result of the industrial farming of genetically modified organisms, the lands adjacent to the school were at the time of the incidents under the management of these companies.
* The coral reefs surrounding Kauai are presently “sick” and scientific experts are clear that Kauai’s near shore water quality is severely degraded with the consensus being it is from a combination of factors that include pesticide and fertilizer run-off.
A growing number of residents from around the state believe that their health and the natural environment of our state is being negatively impacted by the importation, introduction and development of genetically modified organisms and the industrial farming operations that accompany their development.
It is governments’ role and fundamental responsibility to protect the health and welfare of the people and of the aina.
The passage of HB97 is a small but significant step toward fulfilling this role and responsibility and I urge the committee to pass this measure and consider the amendment as suggested.
Councilmember, Kauai County