FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 11, 2001
Contacts: Sen. Sam Slom
STATE'S ONLY MAJOR ORANGE GROWER LOST NEARLY TWO MILLION DOLLARS TO AGRICULTURAL THEFT; LEGISLATION NEEDED TO PROTECT HAWAII'S GROWERS AND FARMERS
Ka'u, HawaiiFor the past three years, Big Island farmer Morton Bassan has been battling vandals stealing oranges, avocados, tangerines, tangelos, lemons, and limes from his 227-acre Ka'u Gold Orange Company orchard in Ka'u.
He has hired guards to protect his 18,000 trees as well as to investigate the theft from his orchard. He has on-line video cameras installed on his property. He has purchased thermal imaging equipment. But, despite these precautions, the theft of the fruit has resulted in losses over the last three years of $1.9 million.
"It is better to close down farming operations, than to grow fruit for thieves," Bassan said.
Bassan says the stolen fruit, which bears special identifiable marks, are sold to wholesalers and island supermarkets, at significantly reduced prices.
"It's orange season and we can find on our island no other local oranges in the market. Our friends on Oahu have also not been able to find other local oranges in the markets. Where the hell are the supposed orange farmers from previous years? If they don't have oranges now, they must have been stealing oranges from me for resale in the past," Bassan said.
"The farming community needs a division within the police department and prosecuting attorney's office with adequate resources dedicated solely to agricultural theft," Bassan said.
In an attempt to deal with this problem, Sens. Sam Slom, Bob Hogue, and Lorraine Inouye introduced SB 1353 (Relating to Agricultural Commodities) in the 2001 Legislative session. The measure requires any person or entity that purchases large quantities of agricultural commodities for purposes of resale to verify the identity of the seller and record each transaction on forms authorized by the chief of police in each county.
"We must protect farmers' livelihoods from unscrupulous thieves and protect their crops from being stolen prior to harvest. The continued loss of crops puts a huge strain on the farmers and the families who rely on crops as income. The Legislature should have acted previously and needs to act now," Slom said.
SB 1353 has been carried over to the 2002 Regular Session, after being deferred earlier this year in the Senate Committee on Agriculture.