HILO, Hawaii – No vote on a bill to prohibit genetically modified organisms on Hawaii Island at the Hawaii County Council, yet. Tuesday’s meeting in Hilo ended earlier than expected, with about sixty testifiers still waiting to speak.

But the special council meeting was not the last time the public will be able to testify on bill 113. The opportunity will once again present itself on November 19, when the council takes up the measure once again during a morning meeting in Kona. And there could be another chance after that, if the bill is substantially amended; which it looks like it will be.

Council chair J Yoshimoto is proposing to amend the bill. He said the changes are in response to concerns raised during testimony in recent weeks.

The Yoshimoto amendments break down into three main points:

1.) No GMO registration
The amendment strikes out the original mandate that farmers using exempted genetically engineered crops – like papaya – must register their business with the county. That includes sharing info on the type of GMO crops being grown and the amount of pesticide used on the farm. The registration comes with an annual $100 dollar fee. Although the registration list would be kept confidential to some degree, papaya farmers feared the list would make their transgenic crops a target. Yoshimoto’s amendment gets rid of all language relating to registration.

2.) Prohibition limited to GMOs “intended for human or animal consumption”
The amendment adds five simple words to the end of the one sentence found in the bill’s prohibition section, so it reads “no person shall knowingly engage in the open air cultivation, propagation, development, or testing of genetically engineered crops or plants intended for human or animal consumption”. The change will effectively exempt the entire ornamental flower industry. We’ve been told that some island companies are hoping to introduce a GMO anthurium that is resistant to damaging nematodes, and that orchid growers could also benefit from the development of virus resistant traits in their plants.

3.) Planning commission involved in new GMO approvals
Yoshimoto’s amendment charges the windward and/or leeward planning commissions with approving new GMO exemptions on the island. Those approved exemptions would also have to be given the OK from the Hawaii County Council. The provision would be unrelated to the section on “emergency exemptions” in the original bill proposal.

The amendments have yet to be voted on, therefore they are not yet a part of bill 113.

A crowd sits outside the #Hawaii County Council chamber as public testimony is heard on bill 113.

A crowd sits outside the Hawaii County Council chamber as public testimony is heard on bill 113.