Knowing what's in our food is a constitutional right.
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Just as the Hawaii Constitution proudly enshrouds, our state motto boldly declares: “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.” The life
of the land is perpetuated in righteousness, and we reserve our sovereign right to control our destiny and to protect and preserve our
aina and our ohana’s quality of life.
These are words that unite all of the people of Hawaii and that could only be born in conquest. They are not hollow. They are a credo for how we aspire to live free. And, they drive to the heart of the U.S. Constitution, which encompasses a system of federalism, wherein the States reserve most powers, with just few granted to the federal government.
Hawaii House Bill 174, now pending before the Senate, speaks directly to this fundamental proposition. Requiring genetically modified foods to be labeled is an exercise of our right as the people of this State and our reserved State power to empower all of the people of Hawaii to make informed decisions about what we buy and what we consume to protect our land and our families.
All of the people of Hawaii should unite to encourage our Legislature to fulfill the promise of exercising our right to this end because now, more than ever, it is imperative. Companies like Monsanto are engineering science nearly as quickly as they engineer their food to create the impression that GMOs are safe. This selective science impedes our ability to make educated decisions based on independent scientific analysis.
It’s no wonder that even the FDA has concluded that we simply don’t know if GMO food is safe. The power of the State of Hawaii to exercise its right to do so has been called into question however by our Attorney General, who fears that doing so may interfere with the exercise of the federal government’s finite power. The AG opinion that such a conflict even exists is far from a settled question, and the legislature can rest assured in passing this bill.
First, the AG argues that federal labeling laws propagated by the FDA would reign supreme and expressly preempt our state’s because they would be inconsistent. But, as the AG cited in testimony to the Legislature, federal labeling laws do not yet touch GMO foods. It stands to reason that there is no inconsistency where the feds have failed to act and the states have decided to act.
Second, the AG claims that the feds, in granting the FDA some powers to label, had sovereign domain over all labeling. But, as the AG’s own testimony illustrates, neither the Supreme Court nor any Circuit Court has ever supported this assertion. Quite conversely, the Supreme Court has held that FDA labeling is not a shield to state laws, while many Circuit Courts have held where the FDA can act, but hasn’t, and the state has, that there is not affirmatively preemption where there is no conflict.
Third, the AG believes that the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce is disturbed by the law because it differentiates between out-of-state and in-state suppliers, with only the former required to label. Yet, as the AG correctly observes,
the state can do so if it has a legitimate state interest, and we do.
Given our state’s unique geography, we have a very real interest to restrict, as we already do, what types of living material are imported
as they may be invasive to what is native.
About the author:Scott Prange is earning a JD at the University of Hawaii at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law and a MBA from Shidler College and is in his final year of study. Previously, Scott worked as a lobbyist representing small business interests. He also worked as a science educator.
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