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Genetically Modified Legislature?

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This current session of the Hawai'i legislature, so far, has not born much good news for those who want stronger regulation of genetically modified food. On March 29, the Health Committee of the House deferred HR 154, a resolution that would have asked the state Health Department to study the feasibility of requiring that foods containing genetically modified organisms be labeled as such. The resolution and online petition in support of it had generated over 1100 signatures in one week, but it only took two people to stop it: committee chair Ryan Yamane and vice-chair Dee Morikawa.

On February 1, the Senate Agriculture Committee deferred SB 713, which would have required labels for genetically modified whole foods such as papayas, and SB 712, which would have required companies raising GM crops to identify them to the Department of Agriculture; the same committee, on the same date, put a hold on SB 711, which would have required GM fish to be labeled as such. The only GMO-related bills still alive are SB 560 and its companion, HB591, which would permanently ban the growing of genetically modified taro in the islands.

There are several reasons why bills to regulate GM food are fairing so poorly. Some of them are legitimate: while labeling locally produced foods with GM contents might be feasible, for instance, tracking down and labeling all the GMOs in the thousands of food products that Hawai'i imports each year would be a different matter. Monsanto's "Roundup Ready," herbicide-resistant GM corn, soybeans and canola oil, for instance, are present in hundreds of products, including some as unexpected as baking powder, powdered sugar and vanilla extract; hundreds of other products contain corn-derived food additives such as dextrin, dextrose, malto-dextrose, mono- and di-glycerides, monosodium glutamate, sorbitol and xanthan gum. Since federal agencies don't require GM labeling, many mainland food producers don't keep track of whether the corn products in their recipes are GM or non-GM.

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