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GMO Labeling Could Add $800/yr to Hawaii Grocery Bills

It is expected to cost consumers $800 per year in higher food prices and many products could simply disappear from Hawaii shelves, but SB2521 is on the move thanks to Senator Clayton Hee (D).   The bill passed the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor (JDL) February 10, and Senate Committee on Health (HTH) February 13 with only Senator Sam Slom (R) voting ‘no’.  The bill, which mandates GMO labeling, is now headed to committees controlled by Sen Roz Baker (D) (CPN) and Sen David Ige (D) (WAM) neither of whom is considered amenable to anti-GMO arguments.

Here are some selections from the testimony on SB2521:

The Hawaii Department of Health Opposes SB2521:

…the Department is not in a position to enforce such legislation because practical and legally defensible analytical methods to detect any and all genetic modifications do not exist….

Currently, there is no conclusive scientific evidence of negative health effects associated with the consumption of genetically engineered food or food products as determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As such we do not believe such labeling is a health issue and thus do not support any such program being assigned to the Department to administer.

The Department would like to focus its limited resources in areas such as controlling the incidence of food borne illness risk factors by inspecting food establishments at the appropriate frequency. Timely inspections have proven to produce consistent compliance with food safety regulations and reduce the rates of food borne illness outbreaks….

That last paragraph is a swipe at the organic industry and the natural supplements industry which are funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into Hawaii to fund anti-GMO activism.

Organic foods have been implicated in several recent outbreaks of food-borne illness:

And late last year, dietary supplements were yanked off the shelves in Hawaii and nationwide after several dozen cases of liver damage – some fatal:

The Chamber of Commerce Hawaii points out:

The American Medical Association (AMA), World Health Organization, National Academy of Sciences, and the European Union have thoroughly examined the evidence and found that consuming genetically engineered foods are no riskier than consuming conventionally grown foods. Therefore we do not support mandated labeling as there is no scientific data to prove that information would be helpful.

Just as important is the cost to business and consumers. Labeling would require companies to incur costs to not just repackage their items but also create costly tracking of their supply chain. These costs will be added onto goods and passed onto consumers….

The Hawaii Food Industry Association, “comprised of two hundred member companies representing retailers, suppliers, producers and distributors of food and beverage related products,” explains:

In Hawaii we already pay very high prices for food. Mandating distinctive labeling for our state will force manufacturers and retailers to make up the cost of the special labels by increasing food prices, probably drastically. Alternately, some manufacturers may simply not be able to afford to continue to offer their products for sale here in our state.

The practical reality of enforcing this bill will be a nightmare. If the distributor/grower does not label the produce or advise the retailer that the product is GMO then the retailer is potentially liable for the mislabeling. A retailer cannot identify GMO product by visual or taste inspection…. Mandating special labeling for genetically engineered food could wrongly send a message to consumers that genetically modified products are not as nutritious, healthy, and/or as safe as other food.

This bill also mandates that the state government engage in the technically complex, and very expensive process, of testing foods to determine the presence and content of genetically engineered material. However, the bill makes no mention of where the state will get funding for the facilities, technical staff, and training necessary to conduct these tests. It seems that the citizens of Hawaii will be asked to bear higher food prices and also some kind of tax increase to fund the process necessary to increase our food prices.

As proposed, this labeling required would be inconsistent to federal requirements, and therefore, costly to implement. Hawaii imports 85% of the food consumed in the state. Hawaii’s food demands are not large enough to force domestic and foreign food suppliers to meet these labeling requirements. As such, the cost will be borne by Hawaii’s consumers.

Opposition testimony came from the Hawaii Farm Bureau quoting President Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack:

Folks want to assess a label that suggests that a particular product can or may contain GMO. Our concern with that is that that label may convey a different message, a message of uncertainty and potentially of unsafety. There are no studies that reflect that there is any safety concern. That’s why it’s probably not a good idea for us to look at labeling in that context.

Alicia Maluafiti, Executive Director of The Hawaii Crop Improvement Association estimates the cost of GMO labeling at $800 per family per year:

With our 1.3 million residents located in the middle of the pacific ocean, we already pay the highest prices for our food – up to 40 percent more than on the mainland. And for poorer families, they spend a greater proportion of their income on food. Since we import 80 percent of our food, the question is “what will food product manufacturers do if Hawaii passes a GMO labeling mandate and how will this impact the cost of food?” There are three options and they are all bad for kama’aina.

1. Food manufacturers will simply refuse to re-label their products to ship to Hawaii because we are their smallest market in the nation. It’s a costly regulatory and administrative burden. Consumers would have fewer choices at the supermarket and would end up paying more for the higher priced organically-labeled or “natural” products likely to flood the market to make up for the more affordable food choices.

2. For those food manufacturers that decide to change their label (like Hormel who produces SPAM), the cost to make a label change ONLY for Hawaii-bound products will be borne by Hawaii consumers. Estimates from California’s failed labeling initiative indicate that families would see their grocery bills increase 10 percent or more than $400 per family per year. Kama’aina can expect to see the price of their food increase up to 20 percent – closer to $800 per family per year.

3. Some food manufacturers could decide to forego genetically engineered ingredients and instead choose the more expensive non-GMO or organic ingredients – just to avoid the regulatory nightmare of a special label. But again – kama’aina will pay the price because those products will simply be more expensive to purchase. Especially since organic crops only make up 2 percent of all agricultural activity.

Simply – local people, local families – all will be the losers of Bill 2521. Fewer choices. More expensive food. For those families struggling the most in Hawaii (the majority), they will have the most difficult time putting food on the table.

Rancher Alan Gottlieb of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council asks legislators:

Please do not give into the fear-mongers and conspiracy theorists spreading lies on social media. When these conspiracy theorists strongest argument in dispute of rational science from such organizations such as the Food & Drug Administration, The National Academy of Science, the American Medical Association or even your own Attorney General is “Monsanto paid them off”, I hope you folks can see what farmers and ranchers are having to deal with these days, rather than taking care of our farms and feeding people the most wholesome food in the world.

The legislature and the Governor has asked the farming and ranching community over and over again to tell them what we need to succeed. Let me tell you unequivocally, this is not one of them.

All told, organizations representing 85% or more of Hawaii agricultural production strongly oppose SB2521.

Even those supporting the SB2521 admit there is no evidence against GMOs.  For instance Chris Coffield of Imua Alliance explains:

…we acknowledge that no credible scientific studies have shown GMO crops to be more harmful than non-GMO products, we believe that the introduction of genetic engineering into food consumption should be subject to the precautionary principle, which states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, then the burden of proof that it is safe falls on those taking an action, i.e. companies experimenting with genetic modification…..

If “no credible scientific studies have shown GMO crops to be more harmful than non-GMO products” then how can Coffield claim the “absence of scientific consensus” which triggers requirements of the so-called “Precautionary Principle”?

For the answer to that question we turn to the comments of anti-GMO protester Thomas Lee Travis, who lists a Pahoa address and an out-of-state phone number on his testimony:

“Applying the precautionary principle, some people are not yet convinced that GM foods are safe.”

In a ‘nut’ shell:  The people must suffer higher food prices, and farmers and ranchers must suffer harassment and crop destruction because “some” paranoid protesters have an opinion.

Andrew Walden

Editor, HawaiiFreePress.com

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Categories: Environment, Must Read, Opinion, Policy, Politics

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