GMO LABELING RESOLUTION PASSED
Well, they finally did it. On Friday, Sept. 21, the Maui County Council voted 8-0 (Mike White was excused) to approve a resolution introduced by Councilmember Elle Cochran that would call for the labeling of all foods sold in the county that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“WHEREAS, the long-term effects of consuming genetically engineered foods are unclear, and without mandatory labeling requirements of these foods consumers may unknowingly be putting their health at risk,” stated the resolution. “WHEREAS, consumers should have the right to know what is in food available for sale so that they can make informed choices…”
This isn’t the first time the council has taken up the GMO issue. A similar labeling resolution failed last year. But in 2009, the council voted (again, unanimously) to prohibit any and all growing, testing or otherwise introducing genetically modified taro (kalo) into the county.
As someone who earns a paycheck by making information public, I’m pretty much compelled to write that such a bill is a good thing. But how much good the resolution will bring about is a very difficult question.
Unlike the GMO taro bill, the labeling resolution is toothless. It merely asks the state Legislature to pass a formal GMO labeling law during its 2013 session. But even if such a bill does pass the state House and Senate next year, and gets signed by Governor Neil Abercrombie, and all food labels in the State of Hawaii start saying “GMO,” it’s worth asking whether there will be any real change.
We’ve been living with GMOs in our foods for a little over 15 years now, and GMOs are pretty deep into our food supplies. At the same time, hard research into their long-term effects (and possible harm) remains pretty scanty. A recent “lifetime feeding trial” in rats that seemed to show a link between GMO corn and tumor growth and early death, while published in the peer-reviewed Food and Chemical Toxicology, is very controversial.
“Whether these foods cause toxicity of any kind in humans or livestock remains unknown,” reported the nonprofit environmental news source Grist on Sept. 20. “There is not evidence that industrially raised cows that eat GMO feed are as riddled with tumors as these rats were. However, there has been some evidence that [Monsanto-manufactured herbicide] Roundup, at least, may have serious and underreported health effects for livestock.”
As is usually the case with such studies, the long-term health effects on humans remains a big unknown. There is, as yet, no evidence that what we’re eating is causing us harm, but at the same time, there’s a painful lack of research into the issue.
But as is usually the case with giant multinational corporations, big money trumps big questions. Perhaps afraid of what consumers might do with packages containing the words “Genetically Modified,” GMO food producers have flatly refused to label their food products in the United States (Europeans, by contrast, enjoy widespread label laws). Doing so may be fine for their bottom line, but it also feeds fear and lends credence to the view that companies like Monsanto (which hasn’t yet commented on the recent GMO corn/rats study, to my knowledge) are hiding something nefarious and can’t be trusted with our health.
Given all the other things big companies and the government have concealed over the years (Agent Orange toxicity to American soldiers, targeted assassinations of suspected terrorists, warrantless spying on Americans by the National Security Agency), it’s no wonder GMO fear seems to be increasing.
WORKFORCE HOUSING HELD HOSTAGE?
You know what isn’t increasing around here? The number of homes affordable to people who don’t pull in $200,000 or more every year. So-called “workforce housing” has long been a demand of county residents who look askance at modestly sized homes carrying $500,000 price tags, but land developers are traditionally loathe to build such dwellings because their profit margin is so slim.
Which is why the Maui County Council voted a few years ago to mandate that a certain percentage of future housing developments fall into that workforce category, less we build out an island none of us can afford to live on. The problem, which should surprise no one who’s spent more than 10 minutes on island, is that developers still aren’t building the workforce housing, even though the law requires that workforce construction begin first.
Still, that isn’t stopping at least one developer from crying out that the State Land Use Commission’s second look at the proposed Kihei Mega Malls may jeopardize the workforce housing attached to the old luxury Honu‘aula project, which apparently share an 88-acre lot along Pi‘ilani Highway in Kihei. If the state LUC reclassifies that land to agriculture, the developers say their workforce project will end up dead.
“Honua‘ula contends that penalizing the workforce housing project because of the shopping centers would be ‘draconian and completely unreasonable,’” reported The Maui News on Sept. 24. “To that end, Honua‘ula is asking the Land Use Commission to separate its affordable housing project from the challenge facing the retail centers.”
Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Except if you kept reading the Maui News article, you discovered that those friends of the working man at Honua‘ula actually have no idea when they might build said affordable housing. There’s no construction going on and no schedule on when it might take place. In short, there is no workforce project currently threatened by any possible LUC rezoning.
The Maui News then points out (much too gently and charitably for my taste) that the complete lack of a workforce housing project “contrasts” with what Honua‘lua developers told the Maui County Council back in 2007 when they approved the construction of the proposal’s 1,500-plus luxury homes and condos. Back then, Councilmember Mike Victorino was talking about how their new law meant they could get all that affordable housing immediately rather than “three or four years” later.
If that seems rather humorous, how about this: on Sept. 14 Pacific Business News reported that the median price for a single-family home in Maui County is $520,000, nearly 27 percent higher than it was a year ago at this time.