In a recent editorial, Mr. Richard Ha accused me of conflict of interest because I speak out about GMO issues, claiming I have no right to express my opinion or to vote on such issues because I am in the natural foods business. According to him, my comments about GMOs will unfairly benefit my business. Mr. Ha is incorrect legally, ethically, and logically.
According to the authority on such matters, which includes the Senate President and the Senate attorney’s office, there is no such conflict of interest, legally. Only if I were to promote a position that benefited my company to the exclusion of others would there be a concern. Actions that might benefit an entire industry are not conflicts of interest. Rules 81 and 85 of the Hawaii State Senate clarify this.
Ethically, there is no conflict in speaking out about issues of any sort, especially those in which I have expertise. Of course a legislator brings his/her background and expertise to the table. This is natural, fair, and it can be no other way. After 35 years in the natural foods business, I feel qualified to speak on natural food, food marketing, and organic issues. I have studied the GMO issue seriously for over 10 years, delving deeply into the science and fictions on both sides of the issue. If anything, the obligation to speak out is greater for a legislator than for a private citizen.