Report Title:

Genetically Modified Taro; Prohibition



Prohibits the development, testing, propagation, release, importation, planting, or growing of genetically modified taro in the State of Hawaii.


H.B. NO.














relating to taro security.





     SECTION 1.  Kalo, Colocasia esculenta, the Hawaiian word for taro, is a culturally significant plant to the kanaka maoli (Hawaii's indigenous peoples) and the State of Hawaii.  Kalo intrinsically embodies the interdependency of the past, the present, and the future, the essence of procreation and regeneration, as the foundation of any sustainable practice. Kalo expresses the spiritual and physical well-being of not only the kanaka maoli and their heritage, but also symbolizes the environmental, social, and cultural values important to the State.  This relationship is represented in the use of the kalo plant on the crown of King Kalakaua.  The state seal, established in 1959, includes eight taro leaves below the shield, honoring the connection between the health of the land and the health of the state.  Today, the logo of the office of Hawaiian affairs and many commercial enterprises throughout the state use this symbol to communicate ohana, integrity, and a connection to Hawaiian culture.  The State of Hawaii further recognized the cultural and historic significance of taro by designating it as the official state plant.

Over 300 kalo varieties may have existed at the time of the arrival of European explorers (Pukui and Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary, 1986).  Today, there are 85 known traditional varieties of taro remaining, including Bun-Long (Chinese) whose use in Hawaii dates back more than 150 years.  Of these, 69 are unique to the Hawaiian islands due to the horticultural skills of native Hawaiian farmers (according to Bulletin 84: Taro Varieties in Hawaii, 1939).  Some are extremely rare.  The state is also a repository for many taro varieties from around the world.  Leaf blight-resistant cultivars were developed from this resource using conventional hand—pollination methods to restore taro crops in Samoa in the 1990s.  Protecting and maintaining the genetic identity of these varieties is critically important to the recovery of old taro varieties in Hawaii and the Pacific. 

Kalo is an important food crop in Hawaii and a complex carbohydrate whose hypo-allergenic properties are life-saving for those with digestive disorders and allergies, including young children and the elderly.  The health implications of non-taro genes in genetically engineered kalo have never been tested, nor have they been approved for human consumption.     Historically, there were thousands of acres under taro cultivation in Hawaii.  Today, however, there remain less than 500 acres of taro in production.  In 2006, the most recent year for Hawaii Agriculture Statistic Services (HASS) market values, 4,500,000 pounds were produced on 380 acres of commercial taro land (11,842 pounds per acre) at a value of $2,565,000,000 farmgate, amounting to an estimated per acre value of $6,750, excluding lu’au leaf.  Raw taro and value-added taro products represent a multi-million dollar crop in Hawaii with great potential for further growth as the State moves towards food security and self-sufficiency.  Control of the single worst taro pest, the apple snail, Pomacea canaliculata, will increase taro production on existing acreage by as much as 25 per cent (Levin 2006).  Cold water and adjusting growing regimes will further reduce taro disease.  Neither of these issues requires a genetically engineered taro solution.  Most locally-grown taro is consumed within the state, indicating a highly specialized market.  Millers and consumers have specifically and consistently rejected the use of genetically modified taro or poi.   

The 2008 Legislature established the two-year taro security and purity task force under Act 211, Session Laws of Hawaii 2008, to address non genetically-modified-organism alternatives to taro farmer issues, including land and water concerns, threats from pests, diseases and taro imports, educational opportunities, and economic issues.  In the same year, the counties of Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai supported a moratorium on genetically-modified taro.  In November of 2008, the county of Hawaii passed Ordinance 361 banning the testing, propagating, cultivating, raising, planting, growing, introduction or release of genetically modified taro on that island.  

The purpose of this Act is to further protect:

     (1)  The cultural integrity of kalo as part of the heritage of the Hawaiian people and the state;

     (2)  The genetic biodiversity and integrity of all traditional taro varieties in the state as part of the sacred trust between the State and the indigenous peoples of the Pacific; and

     (3)  Hawaii taro farmers' raw taro, poi, lu’au, and value-added markets,

by establishing a ban on developing, testing, propagating, releasing, importing, planting, and growing of genetically modified taro in the State of Hawaii.

     SECTION 2.  The Hawaii Revised Statutes is amended by adding a new chapter to be appropriately designated and to read as follows:


genetically modified taro

§     -1  Definitions.  As used in this chapter:     "Genetically modified" means alterations to a life form or its living progeny at the nucleic acid level, using the techniques collectively referred to as recombinant DNA technology.

     "Recombinant DNA technology" means the transfer of genes, regulatory sequences, or nucleic acid between hosts by the use of vectors or laboratory manipulations and includes the insertion, excision, duplication, inactivation, or relocation of specific genes, regulatory sequences, or sections of nucleic acid.  This term does not apply to a material or an organism developed exclusively through traditional methods of breeding, hybridization, or nondirected mutagenesis.

 “Release” means a discharge, emission, or liberation of any genetically engineered organisms, or the product of a genetically engineered organism, into the open environment.

     “Transgenic” means “genetically modified.”

§     -2  Genetically modified taro; prohibited.  No genetically modified taro shall be developed, tested, propagated, released, imported, planted, or grown in the State of Hawaii."

     SECTION 3.  This Act shall not serve as a referendum on the merits of biotechnology nor be applicable to any other crop.  Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit the use of controlled hand-pollination taro breeding methods (taro-to-taro) to improve taro as a crop. 

     SECTION 4.  This Act shall take effect on July 1, 2009.