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Hawaii Might Ditch New Food Safety Law

Diarrhea — let alone something called rat lungworm nematode — can ruin any vacation, so the last thing the tourist industry needs is an association with the risk of foodborne illness.

But would a move toward science-based, risk-reducing agricultural practices in Hawaii help to control a parasitic worm and reduce other food-safety risks, or would proposed new standards hurt the state’s local farmers?

After an upgrade of Hawaii’s food safety law was overwhelmingly approved by the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature, Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie this week put House Bill 667 on a list of bills he might veto.

The bill would create a food safety and security program within the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. Some of the reasons for it are spelled out in its preamble:

  • Safe production, distribution, and consumer handling of food require knowledge of food borne pathogens, chemical toxins, food quality, and labeling.
  • Hawaii’s current system of regulation is understaffed, and the remaining staff is unprepared or untrained for the rapid changes that have occurred in risk assessment, production and distribution methodologies, and new foods and emerging pathogens.
  • Food safety programs are also not integrated among government agencies, hampering communication and cooperation.
  • In addition, many of Hawaii’s growers are not implementing good agricultural practices. This failure to follow science-based, risk-reducing food production practices is worsened by the existence of the rat lungworm nematode in Hawaii. When consumed, this nematode can cause serious illness, as has happened numerous times during the past few years.

In January 2009 three people in Hawaii came down with rat lungworm disease after eating raw vegetables – and physicians fear they may have accidentally swallowed slug larvae hidden inside folds of raw peppers that may not have been thoroughly washed. One of the eaters eventually survived a coma. In May 2011 four probable cases of rat lungworm disease were discovered in Hawaii among salad eaters.

To help prevent this and other food-safety risks, the proposed new law would:

  • Provide training, certification, support, and assistance to the agricultural industry;
  • Assist the Hawaii agricultural industry in achieving food safety and security in a cost-effective and efficient manner; and
  • Perform all inspections and certifications of agricultural commodities in an efficient, effective, and expeditious manner; and develop and implement programs to educate and develop the agricultural industry to meet state and federal laws, rules, and regulations.

According to press reports, Abercrombie believes food safety is important but has concerns about funding the law and whether it provides authority to establish administrative rules.

The Hawaii Farmer’s Union is asking others to sign on to a petition to the governor seeking a veto over its concern that the new law will “negatively effect local farmers and the consumers relying on them to supply healthy food.”

Food safety attorney Bill Marler, visiting Oahu this week for the Hawaii Food Safety Expo, said HB 667 may be done in by farmers and restaurant owners who oppose even the current certification process as too costly and inconvenient, and who think being small and local translates into being safe.

“Once again, the local food movement throws food safety to the side in exchange for the belief that somehow local food is safer if not regulated,” said Marler, who is also publisher of Food Safety News.

© Food Safety News
  • Doc Mudd

    I’ve had friends actually boast of getting diarrhea in Hawaii as debilitating as any they could have contracted on vacation in Mexico.
    Probably Hawaiians know not to eat the local food – they feed that to gullible tourists, who are back home 3000 miles away by the time the rat lungworms migrate through their nervous systems. Think of it as a souvenir of Hawaii, something to remember it by…if you can.
    http://hawaiifreepress.com/main/ArticlesMain/tabid/56/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/319/Organic-food-tied-to-Puna-Rat-Lungworm-outbreak-more-cases-reported.aspx

  • ParisianThinker

    This goes along with the idea that everything is safe in Hawaii including the radiated rainwater that is used to grow local food.

  • hhamil

    OK, Dan, you printed your boss, Bill Marler’s, bold claim–“Once again, the local food movement throws food safety to the side in exchange for the belief that somehow local food is safer if not regulated.” Now, please require him to document it. Or is he, like Doc Mudd, allowed to make such strong claims without documentation?
    To do so, Bill Marler will have to show that someone in Hawaii speaks for “the local food movement” and that someone else has spoken for it somewhere else.
    OF COURSE, BILL MARLER CANNOT DO THAT BECAUSE NO ONE PERSON SPEAKS FOR THE LOCAL FOOD MOVEMENT ANYWHERE. The local food movement is a grassroots movement of millions of people and hundreds of organizations. Not only does no one person speaks for it anywhere, I have never heard or seen anyone claim to do so. And if I ever did, I would jump on that fool like a chicken on a June bug because we are a grassroots movement!

  • Doc Mudd

    “Document” your loopy cult’s resistance to food safety regulations? Are your serious? Check your FSN archives, Harry. Rife with the “local food” movement’s frantic opposition to structured food safety practices. How soon we forget!!
    Here’s just one “oldie but goodie” from the early days of S.510 angst demonstrating your cult’s bobbing & weaving evasion of mandated consumer food safety…
    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/03/libertarian-farmers-push-back-against-s510/
    You and your fellow propagandists prefer to hide behind a stream of dubious acronyms (NICFA and NSAC in the above example, but we could also name NOFA, R-CALF, FARFA, WORC, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum) Hell, I too would like to discover your elusive central singular “spokesperson”, the chief snakeoil salesperson responsible for deceptive local food foolishness and all the rest of the absurd foodie claptrap — that delusional cult leader desperately needs to have some sense slapped into ’em.

  • Harry, your problem is you don’t want any documentation of anything. You don‚Äôt want to prove to your customers the stuff you sell is locally grown and how.
    We just finished a project with the Michigan State University where they have the records to prove where the steak is coming from. This is a local movement with evidence. Here are two articles to learn more about it:
    http://www.agrimarketing.com/ss.php?id=68250
    http://www.bradenton.com/2011/07/05/3322544/wheres-the-beef-bradenton-firm.html
    A week ago we started a project in HI for the small farmers for all food and feed production, harvesting, packaging, transporting, repacking, comingling etc. They can have an account in ScoringAg for $10-30/year to have all the production records with food safety plans and records, they can upload certifications (if needed as it is only a one day snapshot from one person’s opinion), put some pictures in for marketing purposes and comply in full with FSMA. To have ScoringAg records might help you in the future to sell your products, too. The cost is not an issue.

  • Harry Hamil

    OK, Dan, you printed your boss, Bill Marler’s, bold claim–“Once again, the local food movement throws food safety to the side in exchange for the belief that somehow local food is safer if not regulated.” Now, please require him to document it. Or is he, like Doc Mudd, allowed to make such strong claims without documentation?
    To do so, Bill Marler will have to show that someone in Hawaii speaks for “the local food movement” and that someone else has spoken for it somewhere else.
    OF COURSE, BILL MARLER CANNOT DO THAT BECAUSE NO ONE PERSON SPEAKS FOR THE LOCAL FOOD MOVEMENT ANYWHERE. The local food movement is a grassroots movement of millions of people and hundreds of organizations. Not only does no one person speaks for it anywhere, I have never heard or seen anyone claim to do so. And if I ever did, I would jump on that fool like a chicken on a June bug because we are a grassroots movement!

  • Ai Pono

    Please keep in mind that Hawaii is the 50th state in the United States, and as such is now under the legal requirements already imposed by the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This Hawaii bill was written behind closed doors by a business committee without any input from farmers, food processors, or consumers. It then was quietly passed by the state legislature (without any public comment period offered), but only after all funding language was stripped due to state deficits. It duplicated the FSMA (redundant layers of bureaucracy) in its best passages, but omitted the exemptions for small farmers (Tester amendment) included in the federal law. While many committees, organizations, and state gov’t departments did submit supporting comments; the HI state Dep’t of Health, the agency that all the others deferred to, made it clear in their comments that without funding, they would not have the resources or people to enforce the legislation. My evaluation: this was political theater.

  • Ai Pono

    Follow-up from today’s news: Hawaii 24/7 printed the Governor’s comments.
    http://www.hawaii247.com/2011/07/12/abercrombie-gives-final-approval-on-2011-bills/
    “House Bill 667 would have created the food safety and security program within the Department of Agriculture (HDOA). This bill did not provide any funding or power for the department to establish regulations. Congress has recently passed the Food Safety Modernization Act and federal regulations are in the process of being passed. The state must act on the issue of food safety and this Administration will be working on bringing a bill before the Legislature that is comprehensive and includes implementation of a funding mechanism. Moreover, this measure has created such a division of opinion, passage of this bill would make more problems than it solves.”

    I thought the synopsis was pretty good.
    FWIW, not a single Hawaiian resident I know disagrees with the importance of food safety, or is “proud” of dysentery, or rat lungworm meningitis. Those of us in opposition to this bill didn’t like the way it was written and passed within the legislature, or that they stripped small-farm provisions out of the federal version. We are grateful that our governor listens. What a concept.
    Hawaii imports 85% of the food eaten here. There is a strong movement now to improve our food self-sufficiency; the five days of no air travel right after the WTC was attacked exposed just how fragile our safety net really is. Hospitals were running out of medicines, gasoline reserves were low, and *gasp* toilet paper was nowhere to be found.

  • The bill was three pages long.

  • Doc Mudd

    Heh, heh, “self-sufficiency”. If Hawaiians think relying upon air and sea freight for food supplies is a drag, they should find relying upon a few thousand independent-thinking hit-or-miss amateur local hobby farmers quite the adventure in food insecurity.
    Perhaps “not a single Hawaiian resident…disagrees with the importance of food safety”, but they obviously find it more important for the other guy to deal with – they don’t care to be inconvenienced, themselves, by food safety considerations. Not a very scientific or forward-thinking approach to attaining that lofty goal of self-sufficiency.
    My evaluation pretty much coincides with Pono’s…Hawaiians have used food safety as a pawn in political theatre. The drama of dreamy amateur hobby farmers imagining a selfish laissez-faire/caveat emptor elitist food economy is the tragi-comic farce on display. Y’all should have Hawaii’s food security and tourist economy running neck and neck with Mexico’s in no time at all.

  • hhamil

    Please note that Ai Pono’s link shows that Gov. Neil Abercrombie vetoed HB 667.
    For those interested in primary sources, HB 667’s status page is at http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2011/lists/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=667. I believe the version of the bill actually passed is at http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2011/Bills/HB667_CD1_.HTM.
    The full Hawai’i Farmers Union United position is at http://www.hawaiifarmersunionunited.org/HB667_FoodSafetyCertification.pdf.
    I remind everyone that other than a notice like this, I no longer respond to “Doc Mudd’s” comments because s/he/it is clear a troll as defined by the E-zine, Grist.
    Now for responses to other comments in the order they were made:
    Brunhilde Merker,
    Your statement (“Harry, your problem is you don’t want any documentation of anything. You don‚Äôt want to prove to your customers the stuff you sell is locally grown and how.”) is not only false but also ludicrous.
    In the hundreds of comments that I have made on line and are easily accessible to you by doing a web search for “Harry Hamil,” you won’t find a single time that I have ever written anything even approximating what you declare to be my intentions. And obviously, you have never been in our store–the Black Mountain Farmers Market in Black Mountain, NC–where there is label after label on our produce about who grew it, where and under what circumstances.
    And, of course, I never gave any opinion in my comment above about the law itself much less traceability. I was nothing but the “straw man” for your ad hominem attack, Ms. Merker so that you would be able to segue us to your informing us how wonderful ScoringAg’s product is. Fortunately, we and many retailers and growers like us don’t need it and thus don‚Äôt have to amortize its cost in what we charge our customers.
    Ai Pono,
    Thanks for pointing out what actually has been happening in Hawaii.
    It was nice to read that synopsis of the situation because it was exactly how I gauged the situation when I was approached by a Hawaiian grower for my opinion of HB 667. It appears to me, that the Tester-Hagan threshold for the application of additional regulation under the FSMA depends upon the individual states overtly stating what regs they deem necessary so a better written law may be necessary.
    Supporters of the FSMA approaches to food safety regularly mischaracterize what Tester-Hagan did by saying that it exempted certain small growers, processors, packers and holders of food from ALL regulation when it did not do so. Tester-Hagan only exempted these small business from ADDITIONAL FDA promulgated HARPC plan and Standards for Produce Safety regulations required under the FSMA. Those “exempted” small growers, processors, packers and holders of food have lots of other food safety regulations with which their compliance is mandated by law.
    Bill Marler,
    What does the bill’s being 3 pages long have to do with any of this? It certainly doesn’t address the issue that I raised.

  • Harry Hamil

    Please note that Ai Pono’s link shows that Gov. Neil Abercrombie vetoed HB 667.
    For those interested in primary sources, HB 667’s status page is at http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2011/lists/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=667. I believe the version of the bill actually passed is at http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2011/Bills/HB667_CD1_.HTM.
    The full Hawai’i Farmers Union United position is at http://www.hawaiifarmersunionunited.org/HB667_FoodSafetyCertification.pdf.
    I remind everyone that other than a notice like this, I no longer respond to “Doc Mudd’s” comments because s/he/it is clear a troll as defined by the E-zine, Grist.
    Now for responses to other comments in the order they were made:
    Brunhilde Merker,
    Your statement (“Harry, your problem is you don’t want any documentation of anything. You don‚Äôt want to prove to your customers the stuff you sell is locally grown and how.”) is not only false but also ludicrous.
    In the hundreds of comments that I have made on line and are easily accessible to you by doing a web search for “Harry Hamil,” you won’t find a single time that I have ever written anything even approximating what you declare to be my intentions. And obviously, you have never been in our store–the Black Mountain Farmers Market in Black Mountain, NC–where there is label after label on our produce about who grew it, where and under what circumstances.
    And, of course, I never gave any opinion in my comment above about the law itself much less traceability. I was nothing but the “straw man” for your ad hominem attack, Ms. Merker so that you would be able to segue us to your informing us how wonderful ScoringAg’s product is. Fortunately, we and many retailers and growers like us don’t need it and thus don‚Äôt have to amortize its cost in what we charge our customers.
    Ai Pono,
    Thanks for pointing out what actually has been happening in Hawaii.
    It was nice to read that synopsis of the situation because it was exactly how I gauged the situation when I was approached by a Hawaiian grower for my opinion of HB 667. It appears to me, that the Tester-Hagan threshold for the application of additional regulation under the FSMA depends upon the individual states overtly stating what regs they deem necessary so a better written law may be necessary.
    Supporters of the FSMA approaches to food safety regularly mischaracterize what Tester-Hagan did by saying that it exempted certain small growers, processors, packers and holders of food from ALL regulation when it did not do so. Tester-Hagan only exempted these small business from ADDITIONAL FDA promulgated HARPC plan and Standards for Produce Safety regulations required under the FSMA. Those “exempted” small growers, processors, packers and holders of food have lots of other food safety regulations with which their compliance is mandated by law.
    Bill Marler,
    What does the bill’s being 3 pages long have to do with any of this? It certainly doesn’t address the issue that I raised.