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Senate reverses stance, will hold hearing on GMO labeling

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    A sign from an environmental group pushing a bill proposing mandatory labeling of genetically modified food sat during a hearing in Honolulu on Monday.

State senators reversed themselves Tuesday and announced they will hold a hearing on a bill that would require the labeling of genetically modified produce imported to Hawaii.

Senators had previously indicated they would not hear House Bill 174, which state Attorney General David Louie has said that if passed by the Legislature would likely be struck down by the federal courts as unconstitutional. The federal government has jurisdiction over food labeling.

Sen. Clarence Nishihara, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said senators are responding to public pressure from environmental and anti-GMO activists who have demanded a hearing. After a lengthy private caucus among senators today, Nishihara said he believed the consensus among senators was to schedule a hearing.

The Senate agreed to waive its internal 72-hour public notice requirement to hold a hearing on the bill at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Senators agreed to make Nishihara’s committee the lead on the bill in conjunction with the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee and the Senate Health Committee. The Senate Health Committee had previously been the lead committee. If the bill clears the three committees on Thursday, it would go before the Senate Ways and Means Committee before the full Senate. Previously, the bill would have gone to the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee. Sen. Clayton Hee, the Judiciary committee’s chairman, had waived off jurisdiction Monday in the hopes of keeping the bill alive.

House lawmakers who approved the bill earlier this month acknowledged that it was flawed but hope the legislation can be perfected before the session ends in May.

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