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Passage of HB 280 divides Hawaiian coffee growers.

NEW YORK -- Hawaii coffee growers remain divided over state House Bill 280, which repealed the state's mandatory certifications of coffee.

HB 280 authorizes Hawaii's Department of Agriculture (DOA) to adopt administrative rules relating to the inspection and documentation of the geographic origin of Hawaii-grown green coffee beans. It also removes the requirement that all Hawaii-grown green coffee beans be inspected and certified by the DOA unless otherwise specified by rules of the DOA. HB 280 also states that no Hawaii-grown coffee beans can be shipped outside the area of their geographic origin unless they have been marked with or contain documentation of geographic origin approved by the DOA. False labeling of the geographic origin of Hawaii-grown coffee is now a class C felony under HB 280.

The Governor of Hawaii, Nell Abercrombie, originally announced his intent to veto state HB 280. However, he reversed his intention and allowed the legislation to become law without his signature. HB 280 has driven a wedge into the Hawaiian coffee industry with the Kona Coffee Farmers Association (KCFA) on one side and the state House and Senate, the Hawaiian Coffee Association, Hawaii's Farm Bureau, Hawaii's DOA, and other Hawaiian coffee farmers (large and small), roasters and retailers, on the other.

Prior to the passing of HB 280, Hawaii's DOA was required to inspect and certify all Hawaii-grown green coffee. Only those blends containing a minimum of 10 percent Kona coffee beans, or beans from other regions such as Maui or Ka'u could be labeled as originating there. The certifications also identified the grade of the coffee beans. HB 280 renders such certifications as purely voluntary on the part of the coffee producers. Now, green coffee producers and processors, rather than a state agency, will be responsible for keeping the records of both voluntary quality certification and mandatory origin documentation.

Proponents of the bill called for the change in law in response to claims that state budget cuts have hindered the DOA's ability to conduct the inspections in a timely fashion. There is currently only one inspector in West Hawaii after a second position was eliminated during budget cuts.

Opponents, however, said that ending mandatory certifications will create opportunities for counterfeit Kona coffee operations similar to the "Kona Kai Scandal" in the late 90s (Kona Kai Farms was accused of taking Central American coffee beans and packaging and marketing them as Kona coffee). The state's mandatory certifications began shortly after the scandal broke.

Cecelia Smith, president of the KCFA, based in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, and a Kona coffee grower, said the law means that "large processors who buy from cherry farmers in Kona and then process it, have an opportunity by dubious self-certification and documentation for grade and origin to vastly expand the amount of coffee they can now process as 'Kona' coffee." She added that the integrity of Kona coffee will come up for question. "We fought hard after the Kona Kai scandal to get our reputation back. Now, if large sellers of Kona coffee begin to sell less than optimum 100 percent Kona coffee, the small Kona farmer will eventually feel the backlash, in terms of the consumer's perception that Kona coffee is no longer the premium coffee it has always been."

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But Chris Manfredi, a director on the Hawaiian Coffee Association board, based in Kealakekua, Hawaii, and manager of Ka'u Coffee, said HB 280 creates more protection than Hawaiian coffee growers had before. "HB 280 makes coffee counterfeiting more risky. Coffee counterfeiting is now a felony, which it never was before." He added that mandatory certification caused a huge bottleneck for the industry. "There is a more stringent process under the new bill. However, the ultimate arbiter of quality is the buyer," he said, "but for those buyers who feel more comfortable with certification, the option is still available." Manfredi noted that under the previous legislation, certification was Kona-centric. "There is more than just Kona coffee grown in Hawaii. HB 280 levels the playing field."

In stating its opposition to HB 280, the KCFA urged for the increase of state inspectors to a manageable number, which did not happen. In response to the new law that allows for self-certification of quality and self-documentation of origin, Smith said the KCFA is considering reestablishing its own certification process that will be made available to all of its member farms.

Upon abandoning his intent to veto HB 280, Gov. Abercrombie, in a letter to the KCFA stated, "The desire for product integrity and ensuring that outcome simply was not served well for any side of the issue by the Bill. I want to continue to work with everyone to bring us together on equitable solutions starting with adequate inspection and legal support."
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Title Annotation:World News: Coffee and Tea Reports from the Front Line
Comment:Passage of HB 280 divides Hawaiian coffee growers.(World News: Coffee and Tea Reports from the Front Line)
Author:Facenda, Vanessa L.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jul 1, 2012
Words:789
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