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Stricter Kona coffee labeling laws introduced by Hawaiʻi lawmakers : Maui Now

Kona coffee beans. PC: Wendy Osher

Kona lawmakers have introduced bills dedicated to imposing more stringent labeling regulations on Kona coffee. This comes in response to “deceptive labeling” concerns.

Lawmakers that back the bills say a recent report from the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture offered economic justification for legislation to increase the minimum content required for a product to bear the Kona name on its packaging.

“Requiring coffee labeled as ‘Kona’ to actually be 100% Kona beans will protect the value of the Kona name and support farmers’ ability to get the best prices for their products,” said Representative Nicole E. Lowen (D-7 Kailua-Kona, North Kona, South Kohala).

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“The report states that ‘unequivocally, it is expected that the proposed labeling changes will lead to a rise in the price of Kona coffee.’ Now it is time for the legislature to act accordingly and to do what is best for farmers,” said Lowen.

For over three decades, the debate over the required percentage of coffee originating from the geographic area to qualify as Hawaiian coffee has persisted, with existing regulations set at a minimum of 10%.

In 2022, the Legislature passed Act 222, which requested that the HDOA conduct a study on the impact of coffee labeling laws on coffee farmers and to determine the economically ideal proportion of Kona beans in products marketed as Kona coffee.

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“Despite claims that changing labeling laws would lead to sales decreases due to premium pricing, the findings of the report suggest otherwise. Our objective is to protect the integrity of all regional coffee brands in Hawaiʻi, like Kona and Kaʻū, and support our local farmers,” said Representative Kirstin Kahaloa (D-6 Hōnaunau, Nāpō‘opo‘o, Captain Cook, Kealakekua, Keauhou, Hōlualoa, Kailua-Kona)

On Jan. 18, 2024, the HDOA submitted the Final Report on the Economic Study on Changes in Coffee Labeling Law. The report highlights that increasing the minimum amount of Kona coffee from 10% to either 51% or 100% would be advantageous for local farmers, with a higher increase providing the most benefit. Additionally, the report anticipates that proposed labeling changes could result in a price increase for Kona coffee while seeing minimal impact on quantities grown or sold.

“For too long, we have allowed products that are not Kona coffee to use the Kona coffee name and reputation for profit at the expense of farmers. It is time to change this law that undercuts Hawaiʻi’s local farmers, and to finally do the right thing,” added Representative Jeanne Kapela (D-5 Portions of Kea‘au and Kurtistown, Mountain View, Glenwood, Fern Forest, Volcano, Pāhala, Punalu‘u, Nā‘ālehu, Wai‘ōhinu, Hawaiian Ocean View, Ho‘okena).

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During the 2024 legislative session, Kona area legislators have introduced specific bills addressing Kona coffee labeling laws:

HB2298 /SB2481 – Relating to Consumer Protection: Establishes a timeline by which roasted coffee, instant coffee, and ready-to-drink coffee beverages that use a geographic origin in labeling or advertising are required to contain a certain percent coffee by weight from that geographic origin.

HB2613/SB2103 – Relating to Agriculture: Expands the criminal offense of false labeling of Hawaiʻi-grown coffee to include roasted coffee. Imposes a $10,000 fine for each separate offense of false-labeling of Hawaiʻi-grown roasted coffee. Makes an appropriation for 1.0 FTE enforcement position within the Department of Agriculture.

To stay updated with the progress of these measures, visit http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov.

Source: Maui News

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