By Derrick DePledge
Two years ago, the state Legislature and Gov. Neil Abercrombie approved a new law meant to help local farmers sell their products at retail outlets in agricultural districts.
While the city and the state Department of Agriculture were concerned about the potential for large retail projects on agricultural land, the law was supported by farm interests such as Kahuku Farms and the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and passed overwhelmingly by the state House and Senate.
From the conference committee report:
Your Committee on Conference finds that this measure will provide agricultural producers with an additional outlet to sell their products. This measure will allow agricultural producers to explore creative ways to market their products to the community, while connecting the general public with locally grown agricultural products.
But Howard Green, the owner of Green World Farms in Wahiawa, discovered a problem.
He said city planners told him they did not have to follow the new state law. The state Land Use Commission routinely adopts state laws on such issues, he found, but defers to the counties if county laws are stricter. He said he had to get a city conditional use permit and follow city rules on operations.
So Green, who is also an attorney, has sought to change state law, this time by cutting the Land Use Commission out of the mix and ensuring that state law would control when it comes to the retail sales of farm-related products on agricultural land.
Green has helped draft a bill, sponsored by state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, that will be heard on Thursday before the Senate Agriculture Committee, the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee, and the Senate Water and Land Committee.
“I wrote a statute that basically takes the Land Use Commission out of the middle and makes the state law applicable,” Green said of the bill, which he believes reflects the original intent of the Legislature.
Unfortunately for Green, there is another problem.
Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser has flagged the bill as a threat to a new county law on Kauai that regulates GMO and pesticide use and a new county law in Hawaii County that prohibits new GMO crops.
Hooser, writing on Facebook, has branded the bill “still another attempt by the chemical companies and their friends at the Legislature to take away our county authority to regulate their activity.”
Hooser’s theory has been spread by anti-GMO activists on social media and by an uncritical alternative press.
On his blog, Hooser claimed the bill “impacts the county authority to regulate agriculture and would nullify the Kauai and Hawaii County pesticide/GMO ordinances.”
“Another bad bill,” he concludes. “Please oppose.”
Hooser said on Friday that there is a hypersensitivity given other bills at the Legislature over the past few years that would have preempted county agricultural laws.
“Regardless of intent, the bill clearly limits or attempts to limit county authority to regulate agriculture,” he said.
Green, though, insists that the bill has nothing to do with GMOs. Asked whether his intent is to preempt county GMO and pesticide use laws, he said: