WHAT makes for a truly memorable public hearing at the Legislature? Is it the length of time required to take in public opinion on controversial issues and legislation? If so, we’ve spent a lot of time hearing views on increasing the drinking age, indigenous fishing and deciding whether to reopen a school, to name just a few.
Or is it bringing up topics that the average citizen rarely gives much thought to, but that are nevertheless controversial?
Two bills I introduced had a public hearing last week featuring some unusual ingredients and packaging, including made in Korea “Guam Beer,” made in Malaysia or China “Guam” souvenirs, and above all, chocolate, in all forms, whether chocolate chip cookies or boxes of candy that are labeled “Guam” in huge type, with an accompanying picture of Hawaii’s Diamond Head for artwork. Those with very sharp eyes and inquiring minds will find the “Made in China” label in microscopic type on the back.
My office in February started working on the issues that have arisen about importing tourist-oriented goods with misleading ‘country of origin’ labels and the related concern that tourists and other consumers are being misled when they buy products that appear to be, but aren’t made in Guam. There’s more to this matter than we originally thought.
My basic concern is that all consumers deserve to know where the products they buy are made. If the labels are misleading or in a language the prospective purchasers don’t speak, that’s simply not right or ethical.
The battle for tourist candy money goes on every day at big and small retail outlets, and former salesperson Lee Pablo told the hearing that – contrary to what we heard from some distributors – Japanese tourists care very much about where the product is made: “If they know it’s made in China they go ‘dame, dame, dame.’” she said. [In Japanese, ‘dame’ means, “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” etc.]
The Guam Product Seal is intended to encourage local manufacturing of such products, but the brutal competition with large companies distributing foreign-produced candies, cookies and processed fruits that appear to be made here, has cut the ranks of local manufacturers from 60 10 years ago to less than a dozen today, Denise Selk of Co?Co Jo’s, a local cookie manufacturer, told us.
Some have complained that nails and maggots have turned up in batches of the imported products, but right now, tourists really have no recourse to deal with this after they leave Guam. This is of course terrible publicity for Guam.
The intent of Bill 226 is to make the country where the cookie, candy or processed fruit was made clear, which, in my opinion, is a matter of basic fairness. Bill 227 is a companion; it creates a task force which I hope will be able to prevent imported products from masquerading as “Made in Guam.”
Bob McLaughlin, who has been producing Guam Chamorro Chip Cookies for 30 years in Guam, believes it’s time to strengthen the Guam Product Seal law to head off the copy-cat distributors he’s up against. And he shed a few tears while talking about how Guam’s identity is being stolen by what he believes is mislabeling and misrepresentation. “We’re selling ourselves short,” McLaughlin testified. “Are we going to sell the name of Guam or Chamorro at any cost? We’re fighting for our life. [Chamorro Chip Cookies are] an icon on Guam. I don’t want to have it die. I don’t want to have a Chamorro Chip Cookie made in China.”