KONA, Hawaii – In what will end up being one of the longest public hearings in recent memory, hundreds signed up to testify at the Hawaii County Council committee hearing on bill 79 – which would prohibit genetically modified organisms on the Big Island.
The debate has reached a fever pitch over the last few months (see the timeline video below). On one side, those who favor organic growing methods, concerned over the corporate reach of companies like Monsanto – the powerful, multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation. On the other: papaya farmers, many of whom already use a transgenic, virus resistant Rainbow papaya to earn their living. They have found support from some of the island’s large farmers and ranchers, who say they depend on the science to survive.
The conflicting campaigns came to a head today, as the Committee on Public Safety and Mass Transit’s meeting at the West Hawaii Civic Center was packed to capacity. A TV was set up outside the room for the overflow crowd, and the remote teleconference sites were inundated with testifiers. About 400 people signed up to speak. At three minutes apiece, the council was looking at 12 hours of public testimony.
Most of the input was in favor of the bill introduced by Kohala councilwoman Margaret Wille (see some of the testimony for and against to the right). Supporters identified themselves with a green armband, and when they spoke, they silently cheered one another with a coordinated hand wave. Applause was forbidden, as the council hoped to maintain decorum despite the passions involved.
The diverse assortment used humor, quoted research, and spoke with emotion as they tried to convince the council to support the bill. Celebrity resident Roseanne Barr was front and center.
There were some who testified against the bill. Monsanto Hawaii’s Alan Takemoto and Hawaii Crop Improvement Association president Mark Phillipson went into the lion’s den, speaking out against the measure. Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, the man credited with developing the transgenic Rainbow papaya, was also in attendance.
Opponents of the bill include the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association, Big Island Banana Growers Association, Hawaii Dairy, and Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council.
The day continues on Wednesday, and some say it could even continue into Friday (no testimony on the 4th of July) when the councilmembers are expected to vote on the bill, giving it either a positive or negative recommendation before it goes on to the full council.
GMO debate in Hawaii County – TIMELINE