More locally grown food and safer growing methods are the goals of a couple of bills close to passing the final hurdle in the Hawaii Legislature.
Small farmers appear split on the bills. They like House Bill 2703, which sets out to double the locally grown food supply by 2020. They have doubts about HB 1947, which would give the Hawaii Department of Agriculture the power to conduct audit and certification programs.
Both measures are waiting for a final vote in the Hawaii Senate before they will likely land on Governor Neil Abercrombie’s desk.
A sign that changes may be in the works came over the weekend when the Diamond Head Farmers Market, held on Saturdays, told farmers that in the future they’d have to be “safety certified” to have a place to sell their products. The Diamond Head is considered Oahu’s leading farmers market.
It’s run by Kapiolani Community College (KCC), which opted to get the word out early to farmers. It expects to lose only a couple of vendors.
Since Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act in late 2010, states have not stepped up to fill the void of food safety regulation for small producers left by the federal law. Hawaii has quietly stepped into that space with these two new proposed laws.
Hawaii’s new audit and certification services would be strictly voluntary under HB 1947, which is awaiting action on the floor of the Hawaii Senate after clearing the House.
The state Department of Agriculture would be required to establish “good agricultural practices” and the audit and certification function would be operated on a fee for service basis.
HB 1947 includes a section which stipulates that if a producer of raw unprocessed honey does not have access to municipal water or infrastructure, the honey does not have to be processed n a food processing facility certified by the Department of Health.
To get the exemption, however, treated water must meet or exceed state and federal standards, regular water testing must take place, hand-washing facilities must be in place, and compliance with all other health and safety regulations is required.
Hawaii imports about 92 percent of the food consumed on the islands, including produce, livestock, and dairy. A University of Hawaii study found that if the state could replace just 10 percent of those imports it would add about $200 million to the local economy.
And going for more locally grown food is more popular than audit and certification programs among some Hawaiian growers. On Honolulu Civil Beat, a community news site and blog, organic farmer Bill Greenleaf, who farms two acres of “Upcountry Maui,” writes that he has “no love” for HB 1947.
“Small farmers across the state oppose HB 1947,” Greenleaf says. “How do I know? Because small farmers like me have been writing and calling our elected officials, testifying and begging the Legislature to revise this bill so that it does not put small farmers like me out of business. HB 1947 is an anti-small farm bill supported by big agribusiness under the guise of ‘food safety’.”
Greenleaf says the bill “is written to codify that all sizes of agriculture, large and small, must use the same expensive and time-consuming certification process.” He says large-scale agriculture in Hawaii already meets these standards, and has the costs built in.
Greenleaf claims small producers like himself do not have “pathogen threats” and cannot afford the time and cost necessary to maintaining records.
The bill for boosting production on the islands calls for setting “sustainability standards.” It is being pushed by the Hawaii Food Policy Council, which sees food as a weapon to diversify the local economy.
The Hawaii Legislature is down to its last month with Adjournment Sine Die on May 3.