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Counties in California & Hawaii Ban GE Crops

CALIFORNIA: Lake County Supervisors Approve GE Crop Ban

October 21, 2008
LAKEPORT - By a 3-2 vote the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave initial approval to an ordinance to ban the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Lake County.

The ordinance has been advanced to a final reading next month.

Supervisors Ed Robey - who introduced the ordinance - along with Anthony Farrington and Denise Rushing voted to approve the measure, with Jeff Smith and Rob Brown voting no.

With the exception of Rushing, who wasn't yet on the board in 2005, the rest of the board members voted the same as they did when considering a 2005 ordinance that would have placed a 30-month moratorium on GE alfalfa.

That crop has since been re-regulated by a court decision, with the US Department of Agriculture ordered to do a full environmental impact study before it can be released again to the market, as Lake County News has reported.

The board's decision followed three and a half hours of public input and board discussion, which revealed a deep divide in opinion.

Local agricultural leaders and business people said the kind of scientific tools used for genetic engineering are crucial to giving them a competitive advantage.

On the other side of the issue, those against the use of the GE crops said they wanted agriculture to thrive but didn't believe that state and federal governments have done enough to vet the safety of genetically modified organisms.

Robey aid he attempted to find a balance point that would appeal broadly to people on all sides of the issue, although he realized it was a divisive topic.

"I think there is one thing that we can all agree on though, and that is, agriculture is an important part of Lake County's history and our economy, and we want to make sure the agricultural industry in Lake County survives and thrives, and it's going through some tough economic times right now," said Robey. "That's where I'm coming from with this ordinance."

He said the ordinance prohibits use of GE crops unless they produce medical products, and also includes a provision where the board can exempt any crop if they make specific findings that the crop is beneficial, such as if it is resistant to disease.

Robey pulled out a box of energy bars purchased at Costco and made in China, which states on its package that it's free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which he said is an economic advantage.

The issue of economic benefit proved to be a major one throughout the meeting.

Farrington questioned if there was substantiation for that claim, citing a letter from county Agriculture Commissioner Steve Hajik, who contacted Marin and Mendocino counties, where non-GMO ordinances have been accepted. Hajik reported officials from those counties weren't able to quantify if they were getting higher prices for their produce.

Brown said there's been no proof about economic advantage.

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Hawaii County Council Bans GMO Taro and Coffee

October 9, 2008
HILO -- The genetic modification of taro and coffee on the Big Island is now a banned practice.

The Hawaii County Council voted 9-0 Wednesday in favor of a bill from North Kona Councilman Angel Pilago on its second reading to ban genetically modified taro and coffee.

It was a circus-like atmosphere Wednesday in Hilo's Ben Franklin building, where the meeting was held. Children played in the hallways outside of the council chambers waiting for their chance to speak along with their parents. A man standing in the hallway corner sang as he strummed the strings of a guitar. The council, meanwhile, listened to a different tune, one delivered by the seemingly endless convoy of residents who took turns at the microphone to give their two cents on the proposed ban.

About 70 residents testified in Hilo, while about 30 testified via teleconference from the council offices in Waimea and Kona. There have been no major complaints about banning genetically modified taro, but with coffee it's a different story.

On one side of the debate are those who believe genetic modification of coffee could eventually spell disaster for the island's coffee industry. Off-island buyers would not be interested in Kona coffee that has been purposely or accidentally genetically modified, the proponents believe.

Then there are residents who believe, among other things, without genetic modification of coffee, there will be no scientific answers when disease strikes and destroys Big Island coffee.

A vast majority of residents who spoke Wednesday said they were in favor of the ban.

Dr. Hector Valenzuela, a vegetable crops extension specialist with the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said he -- unlike all of his peers at the college -- supports the bill.

He said the scientific community should be concentrating on aspects of agricultural research, such as teaching farmers how to sustain crops without having to rely on chemicals, rather than genetic modification.

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