Nearly 2,500 Maui County residents signed petition cards expressing their opposition to an anti-GMO, anti-pesticide bill introduced by Councilmember Elle Cochran. The proposed legislation was heard for the first time in the council's Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee (PIA) meeting, "Pesticides and Genetically Modified Organisms" (PIA-58) on Tuesday, Jan. 28 (see "Maui & Molokai Farmers Have Their Say" on the front page).
The cards were presented by Watanabe at the Council's Policy Committee hearing by Maui County Farm Bureau Executive Director Warren Watanabe.
Concerned farmers and ranchers have dubbed the measure an "anti-agriculture" bill, and many are worried that if it passes, it will force many struggling local farms to shut down.
HC&S employee Kurt Yamamura (left to right), Maui County Farm Bureau Executive Director Warren Watanabe and HC&S Agronomist Mae Nakahata assess petitions signed by thousands of Maui County residents in opposition to Councilmember Elle Cochran’s anti-GMO, anti-pesticide bill.
"When this bill was introduced, the farm bureau received numerous calls from the agricultural community worried that this bill will be the end of their small businesses," Watanabe said. "Farmers already face numerous challenges and work very hard to comply with stringent state and federal laws. Adding a ridiculous new layer of regulations at the county level will kill off some of our farms."
Watanabe noted that the bill ignores state and federal regulations governing GMOs and pesticide use, and if passed, would require significant taxpayer dollars to enforce.
"If you took the time to understand how the EPA and USDA and other government agencies rigorously regulate agriculture, including pesticide use, the scientific standards they use, and the mandatory training and certification process farmers undergo in order to use various pesticides, you'd understand why it doesn't make sense for the county to add a whole new set of arbitrary rules."
Watanabe also said farmers were flabbergasted that the farming community was never consulted prior to the bill being written and introduced.
"This bill is all about agriculture, but it completely ignored and shut out the voices of the farmers," said Watanabe.
"Our farmers should be able to express their fears and concerns in an environment that encourages honest discussion," Watanabe said. "Maui County's farmers have yet to receive a fair shake at having their concerns heard."