A new pilot program in Hawaii should help another 100 or so of the state’s local growers get their food into local hotels.

House Bill No. 1471 was passed into law late July and established the Food Certification Pilot program, which will be managed by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, with assistance from the Hawaii Department of Health.

The program is designed to coordinate purchasing agreements between agricultural cooperatives and hotels, restaurants and other buyers in the visitor and hospitality industries, according to the bill. The pilot program should help with that by developing and implementing safe food certification for locally grown produce.

However, effects of the law may not start until at least next year, as the state's governor is likely to deny funding for the initiative.

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill originally, saying the program “appears to be a gesture to improve food safety without the teeth necessary to make it a viable program,” according to West Hawaii Today.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority Special Fund will allocate $140,000 to establish the program, if the funding is approved by Lingle. The idea is that if safe, local food is offered to local hotels and eating establishments, it could help Hawaii tourism.

Lingle argued there was no real connection to tourism. Her veto was overridden by the Legislature late July, which then established the pilot program.

"It's a law because the Legislature passed a bill, but it's the governor who is not supporting it, primarily because we are in a delicate financial situation," said Tish Uyehara, director of marketing and food safety for Armstrong Produce, Honolulu. "On the basis that it was an imappropriate use of those funds, therefore, the governor will probably not allow the release of those funds for that purpose."

Armstrong Produce is a wholesaler that imports 70-80% of what it sells, she said.

Uyehara said once the economic situation in the U.S. improves and the state becomes more financially stable, since the law is already on the books, it will be easier for another source of funding to be found and for the pilot program to start working.

According to the West Hawaii Today article, only 32 of the state’s 2,000 farms are food safety certified by third-party audit. Supporters of the pilot program from the hotel and restaurant industry in Hawaii said food safety was a major concern for them, and that if good agricultural practices were followed and assured to buyers, it could make a big difference.

"Hawaii is basically made up of very small farms, most less than 10 acres in size," Uyehara said. "The idea behind the legislation is to make it not so expensive and onerous for small farmers to get certified, to help them understand it's really just about sanitization practices in the field and in packing houses."

Sheraton Hotels & Resorts led the hotel industry in this initiative, she said.

"I think they would like that measure of confidence, and like to be able to say they're using local produce," Uyehara said.

UPDATED: Law aims to help Hawaii use its own produce
                Courtesy Hawaii House Blog

Specialty tomatoes from Hamakua Springs County Farm, Big Island.