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GMO-labeling proposal dead for this session

By Sarah Zoellick

LAST UPDATED: 4:45 a.m. HST, Mar 22, 2013

Senators Thursday afternoon deferred for this session a bill that calls for genetically modified imported produce to carry labels, opting instead to pass a resolution that requests several state groups study the issue in more detail and report back to the Legislature. 

Sen. Clarence Nishihara, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he believed the deferral was more prudent and responsible than passing House Bill 174, which the state Attorney General has said could be found unconstitutional.

Organizations such as the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization; the state departments of Agriculture, Health, Business, Economic Development and Tourism; and the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources will be asked to study the feasibility of labeling GMOs and the economic impact labeling would have on businesses, consumers and farmers, as well as review studies on the impacts of GMO food on health and agriculture in Hawaii. 

Senators said roughly 130 individuals testified in person Thursday morning, and many more written testimonies were submitted.

Testifiers lined up more than 30 minutes early outside a Senate hearing room Thursday morning, and were allowed to address the committee until 11 a.m.

Senators previously indicated that the chamber would not hear the bill on the grounds that the state Attorney General said it could be found unconstitutional. Subsequently, lawmakers on Tuesday announced the bill would be heard in response to public pressure from GMO labeling advocates.

Nishihara announced before the hearing that the committees decided to take public testimony as a way to clear up misconceptions and educate the community about what the bill aims to do. 

Testifiers expressed concern that not all would be allowed in the small hearing room, explaining to senators that they want to be able to “feel” the testimony. Others, particularly those who traveled from neighbor islands, expressed displeasure that the hearing would end promptly at 11 a.m. and written testimony submitted 24 hours prior to the hearing would be accepted firs

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