GMO Taro Ban Wins

SUBHEAD: Maui County Council unanimously takes step towards banning GMO taro growing.  

image above: Photo of Representative Mele Carroll pulling taro on Maui. From

By Jeri DiPietro ( on 19 September 2009 in Island Breath -
Today was an exciting day at the Maui County Council hearing. The GMO taro ban bill passed First Reading 9-0!!!!

The best quote of the day: "We have a duty to protect Hawaiians and that starts right here, right now" - Chair Danny Matteo, right before the vote call. Mahalo to everyone for the powerful and articulate testimony (extra mahalos to those who came from far!), to those who came to show force and for the voices of the kupuna that reverberated in the chamber today. It was chicken skin! The message is sent. To those who were with us in spirit from every island and the mainland, mahalo for your support. All of your positive intentions for protecting Haloa from so many avenues have been realized. ]
By Ilima Loomis on 19 September 2009 in the Maui News -

A bill prohibiting genetically modified taro in Maui County has received initial approval from the Maui County Council. Even though council members had been unable to reach consensus for a recommendation on the ban during committee discussions, the council voted unanimously Friday to approve the bill at first reading. While some expressed concerns about how the ban would be enforced, all nine councilors said they were moved by testimony from Native Hawaiians and supporters, and believed taro's cultural and spiritual significance was more important than any other factor.

 "The legacy of the host culture and the value of the kanaka maoli must be protected, and it starts now," said Council Chairman Danny Mateo.

 "I'm very humbled to be here at this moment," said Council Member Sol Kaho'ohalahala, who displayed a potted taro plant on his desk as he voted. The bill would prohibit anyone from testing, propagating, growing or importing genetically engineered or modified taro within Maui County. It is expected to return to the council for final approval on October 2nd. Supporters of the ban have argued passionately that kalo, or taro, is a sacred plant and staple food for Native Hawaiians, and should be kept in its natural form.

They feared that even if limited use or research were allowed, genetically modified forms of taro could mingle with other strains being cultivated. Mayor Charmaine Tavares has said she has questions about how the county could enforce the ban. And opponents have expressed concern that a complete ban on genetic modification could prevent agricultural scientists from developing new varieties of taro that are better able to withstand diseases.

 "The ability of farmers and ranchers to adopt new technologies that will improve their viability is critical," said Maui Farm Bureau President Warren Watanabe. But testimony Friday was overwhelmingly in favor of the ban. Kipahulu taro farmer Tweetie Lind said growers knew that what taro needed to overcome diseases was adequate fresh water with good circulation.

 "It's amazing to hear how others would like to tell us taro growers what is best for us," she said. Ukumehame resident Victoria Kaluna Palafox, who said she has returned to growing her own taro to help feed her family in difficult economic times, said genetic modification was "not natural."

 "It makes me afraid to feed my moopuna (grandchildren) something that is not pure," she said. And taro farmer and cultural practitioner Ke'eau-moku Kapu said he would only want pure, natural plants when he uses taro in spiritual ceremonies.

 "Knowing it might be modified, I'm not doing my due diligence offering this on an altar, to God," he said. Council Member Jo Anne Johnson said the bill was not a referendum on genetically modified organisms, but was about "the Hawaiian right to self-determination," and should be passed as a pre-emptive measure. "It is a cultural issue," she said. "It is about cultural respect and the integrity of the Hawaiian culture, and respecting the host culture."

 "Whether you're Hawaiian or not Hawaiian, this is important to a lot of people," said Council Member Bill Medeiros, who introduced the bill. And while Council Member Mike Molina said he had some concerns about the ban, the proposal had opened his eyes. "Now when I eat poi I look at it very differently," he said. "I'm really thinking when I eat poi or kalo."

 • Ilima Loomis can be reached at

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: GMO Taro Update 8/23/09
Ea O Ka Aina: GMO Taro Ban 2/16/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Genetically Modified Kauai 12/10/08
Island Breath: Taro Bill SB 958 thu Ag Comm 4/4/08
Island Breath: Tainted Taro Bill SB 968 4/12/08
Island Breath: Enemies of Taro 3/20/08
Island Breath: Two Taro Bills thu Senate 2/8/07


Andy Parx said...

Whoa whoa whoa Juan- this was a “first reading” vote- it only means they placed the bill on the table- it has two more reading (Maui has three reading whereas we have only two) and a pubic hearing if it’s going to pass and could be amended to change it completely or even ill it.

Juan Wilson said...


You're right , but I am glad to join Jeri in celebrating every little baby step in the right direction.

Andy Parx said...

Yup- actually it is a major accomplishment to get it on the table- wonder if anyone on our council has the guts to do the same?

Post a Comment