HONOLULU, HAWAII – The state House of Representatives approved a $10 billion budget last week that includes a key budget restoration of plant quarantine inspectors within the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA). The positions have been eliminated by the state administration causing a critical statewide shortage.
The House voted to restore 59 HDOA positions, with the majority in the Plant, Pest, and Disease Control Division. The budget bill has now crossed over to the Senate for consideration. Rep. Clift Tsuji, chair for the House Committee on Agriculture, earlier last year informed Governor Lingle during a person-to-person meeting that the planned RIF (reduction-in-force) of 50 inspectors statewide is unacceptable and would result in an agricultural and economic catastrophe. Last September, HDOA announced the restoration of 22 inspectors to provide core services for all ports of entry statewide.
Special funding totaling $600,000 has come from the Hawaii Invasive Special Council and $1.2 million from the Pest Inspection, Quarantine and Eradication special fund. The Pest Inspection, Quarantine and Eradication special fund money is derived from air and maritime cargo entering Hawaii. The 50-cent fee per 1,000 lbs. of cargo is required to help inspect invasive species from entering our islands. Tsuji introduced HB 2843, relating to invasive species in 2008 to generate this sustainable funding source.
“This restoration is only a temporary stop-gap, and it is imperative that we look for other sources of funding,” said Rep. Tsuji. “Our food products could languish at the ports up to a couple of weeks because of the disruption, and, subsequently, another week before they are stocked on our neighbor island grocery shelves.”
“Our recent tsunami alert should be another wakeup call,” continued Rep. Tsuji, noting that the Hilo International Airport and harbor were shut down during the recent tsunami alert. He also emphasized that the Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island still needs repairs following the 2006 earthquake. “We import more than 80 per cent of the food we consume, and the supply is less than two weeks. Honolulu is the epicenter of this critical distribution network.”
Speaking before the House members, Rep. Tsuji stressed the critical need to support the restoration of the HDOA general fund budget, which has seen a 42% reduction in funding. The House budget also includes the restoration of HDOA division personnel in aquaculture development, agricultural commodities, general administration, and development and marketing.
Restoration of agricultural commodities personnel is essential for export products such as coffee and papaya which require timely inspection and certification. E-coli and salmonella continue to plague food safety and are responsible for an alarming number of deaths nationwide.
“Federal mandates are expected for such food safety audits and we should be prepared to be in compliance,” Rep. Tsuji warned. “There are a number of fee-for-service bills directing fees to be placed in special funds to ensure a sustainable HDOA funding source.”
‘Georgette Deemer is the Director of Communications – Hawaii House of Representatives’ majority party’