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Two Bills Would Expand Organic Markets

West Oahu Islander
February 20, 2008

Talking Story With Sen. Mike Gabbard

Aloha! I hope you and your family are well.

You may have noticed that more and more of our supermarkets are carrying organic foods. My family and I have been eating organic foods for many years. We appreciate the benefit of eating healthy foods that are free of toxic substances like conventional pesticides. We also like the idea of supporting organic farmers whose agricultural methods promote sustainability, enhance soil health and preserve our natural environment.

What you may be surprised to learn is that over the past decade, sales of organic products have shown an annual increase of at least 20 percent, making organics the fastest-growing sector of agriculture in the United States. For example, in 2005 retail sales of organic foods and beverages totalled $12.8 billion.

You also may not be aware that all organic foods on supermarket shelves bearing the organic label have to meet USDA certification standards first established in 2002. In Hawaii, the principal certifier for organic farms is the Hawaii Organic Farmers Association (HOFA).

In 2004, while I was a member of the Honolulu City Council, I authored legislation that put the city on record in support of organic agriculture. Hawaii has a strong history of organic farming. Today we have close to 200 organic farms located on five islands: Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Oahu. Our organic farms range in size from one to 1,725 acres. Some principal products include coffee, macadamia nuts, banana, pineapple, ginger, mango, avocado and salad greens. It’s estimated that Hawaii’s organic agriculture is a $5 million to $10 million a year industry.

However, right now there’s an increasing demand for organic foods that exceeds our local supply. In order to meet this demand, supermarkets are importing organic foods from the mainland and other countries. This situation leaves us vulnerable, however, to bringing in invasive species, which have the potential to harm our environment. By expanding our local organic industry, Hawaii has a great opportunity to prevent this problem and allows us to become more sustainable by growing our own food.

In consultation with HOFA and the Hawaii Cooperative of Organic Farmers, I’ve introduced two bills this session to help strengthen and grow organic agriculture in our state. The first bill, SB 2925, establishes a State Organic Program under the direction of the Department of Agriculture. The bill also would require the Department of Agriculture to come up with and implement a plan to develop and expand the local organic agricultural industry. The second bill, SB 2924, appropriates funding and directs the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources to hire additional researchers and specialists to support organic agriculture research and teaching programs. I’ll be working with my colleagues in the House and Senate over the next several months to get this important legislation passed.

So next time you’re shopping, think about buying some of our locally grown organic produce.

If you’re interested in learning more about this legislation, please contact my office at 586-6830.

  Mike Gabbard - State Senate| P.O. Box 75480 Kapolei, Hawaii 96707
Phone: (808) 682-0676 | Fax:(808) 682-2591 | E-mail: mike@mikegabbard.com