Maui County Taro Ordinance (2009)
The Maui County Taro Ordinance is a proposed bill that would ban genetically engineered or modified taro, a Hawaiian grown plant, in Maui County, Hawaii. Councilmembers reviewed the bill on June 29, 2009 during a meeting that concluded without resolution. The bill has received great support from farmers in Hawaii, where the taro has spiritual and cultural significance.
The proposal received strong support from Native Hawaiians, taro farmers and critics of GMO technology when it was introduced at the regular Maui County Council meeting. It was referred to committee for future discussion.
Critics of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms)taro said genetic experimentation still hasn't been proved to be safe, and natural strains of the plant could be contaminated through pollination.
"That's sacred," said taro farmer Alex Bode. "Leave our taro alone."
Bode also later stated that environmental issues affecting taro farmers won't be solved by genetic modification.
Rep. Mele Carroll said that her position not were the same of her constituent taro farmers - many of whom also have called on the Maui County Council to create a genetic engineering ban - but also followed her own spiritual beliefs as a Native Hawaiian.
Proponents of developing genetically modified taro have said research could help the plant resist modern pests and diseases. Dr. Harold Keyser, county administrator for the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), reminded that the university has not engaged in taro research since a moratorium was imposed in 2005—but university researchers want obtain the ability to conduct research in the future.
“We respect the cultural significance of taro,” he said, “but this is an issue of humanity.” According to Keyser, taro growers will invariably encounter a range of challenges, such as pests and diseases, and GE is a preventative measure, “should the need arise.”
The state senate passed a taro bill in April, urging Maui County to follow its lead. However Maui County councilmembers could not fully push the issue to a full council meeting on June 29, 2009.
According to county Department of Environmental Management Director Cheryl Okuma, “We are not in a position to enforce this bill if it is passed into law. It is way outside of our expertise… especially hearing how much science there is.” The department does not possess the expertise or staff, she said, and “it is simply not realistic.”
- Maui County Official Site
- State of Hawaii Official Site
- University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resource
- Maui County Environmental Management