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6-Regulation: Patchwork of laws: US State legislatures take on GM foods

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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Patchwork of Laws: State Legislatures Take on GM Foods
SOURCE: Pew AgBiotech Initiative, USA
DATE:   October 2001

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Patchwork of Laws: State Legislatures Take on GM Foods

With the debate over genetically modified (GM) foods and crops heating up 
nationally, state legislatures were active during the 2001 legislative 
session considering bills designed in some cases to encourage and in others 
to regulate aspects of ag biotech.

This year, governors signed a total of 22 state bills concerning 
agricultural biotechnology, with nearly two-thirds of these laws taking aim 
at activists who destroy GM crops or animals—even though just a few states 
experienced such crimes. The measures, supported in large part by industry, 
heighten penalties for crop destruction, often boosting the crime from a 
misdemeanor to a felony.

In addition, in the wake of the StarLink episode where GM corn approved 
only for animal use inadvertently entered the human food supply, state 
legislatures sought to protect farmers from economic losses arising when GM 
seed or pollen commingles with conventional crops. The bills vary from 
state to state, but most seek to make seed producers and distributors 
liable for farmers' losses.

Farmers Get Organized

Grassroots farming groups, such as the Nebraska Farm Union and the National 
Family Farm Coalition, organized the efforts to pass these GM liability 
bills which would shield farmers from the economic brunt of inadvertent 
mixing of GM and conventional seed. "Farmers are getting organized and 
starting to realize that the biotechnology seed companies aren't interested 
in protecting their interests and that they need to fight for those 
interests themselves," noted Kimberly Wilson, a spokesperson for 
Greenpeace. "These bills are clear signposts that it's not just the 
consumers that companies like Monsanto need to be worried about, but 
actually their customers, the farmers."

Patrick Kelly, director of State Government Relations and Grassroots 
Programs for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), also sees the 
bills as significant. "If we were shocked by anything this past session, it 
is this trend; and, we will try to work with the farming and legislative 
community to mollify or assuage any fears they have about growing GM 
crops," he said. BIO opposes GM liability legislation as unnecessary and 
detrimental to biotechnology's future.

Kansas and North Dakota passed GM liability bills and 13 other 
states—mostly Midwestern and Western grain growing states—debated similar 
bills. Several of these measures failed but most will be considered or 
voted upon this coming year.

 Bills for Labeling, Planting, Marketing

Eleven states introduced labeling measures to identify foods containing any 
ingredient from a GM crop; however, Maine passed the only labeling law. It 
permits the voluntary labeling of GM-free products. (See the Roundtable.)

A number of states considered bills placing a moratorium on planting GM 
crops. For example, one failed Montana bill sought to ban growing GM 
wheat—a product still in development—in order to ensure Montana wheat would 
be acceptable to foreign markets which often prohibit GM foods. Vermont and 
New York, states with prominent organic farming industries, debated more 
wide-reaching moratorium bills. The New York bills prohibit growing GM 
crops for five years whereas the Vermont bills do not have time limits 
attached to the pieces of legislation. Both states will consider the 
measures in upcoming legislative sessions.

Even though GM fish are not presently on the market, Maryland enacted a law 
prohibiting the release of GM fish into the Chesapeake Bay. The law bans 
raising GM fish in net pens, which can be breached by storms and predators, 
in coastal waters. Wilson sees this bill as a warning: release of 
transgenic fish into open waters won't be tolerated.

Massachusetts, North Carolina and Hawaii considered laws to regulate 
growing and marketing of certain GM crops. At this time, no bills have 
passed, but they may be considered in the coming year.

Should the trend for states enacting ag biotech legislation continue, it 
may result in a national patchwork of laws that vary state to state. Both 
consumer advocates and the biotech industry maintain that this piecemeal 
approach creates problems. As Wilson points out, "Kelloggs doesn't sell 
their products to just one state. Labeling has to be across the board not 
in certain spots." And, concerned about state regulatory hurdles in 
addition to federal requirements already in place, Kelly adds, "If these 
products have to go through the Food and Drug Administration, the 
Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture in every 
other state, then why even go forward with the technology?"

For more information, please go to the websites of Greenpeace USA <http://>and the Biotechnology Industry Organization 
(BIO). <>

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Maine's Voluntary Labeling Law
SOURCE: Pew AgBiotech Initiative, USA
DATE:   October 2001

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Maine's Voluntary Labeling Law

This past year Maine's Gov. Angus King, an independent, signed into law a 
bill that allowed the voluntary labeling of "GM-free" foods. Democratic 
State Sen. Marge Kilkelly championed the bill while State Rep. Paul 
Volenik, also a Democrat, opposed the measure. The two legislators agreed 
to answer the following question AgBiotech Buzz:

Is Maine's New Labeling Law a Benefit to Consumers and Industry?

Can we create a segregation system for biotech foods that America could 
afford? And, should we?

Voluntary Labeling Empowers Consumers to Make Choices

Sen. Marge Kilkelly (D) Lincoln County

A voluntary labeling scheme for genetically modified (GM) food does serve 
the consumers of Maine. I am not a scientist and have not made any decision 
about whether or not bio engineered foods are safe or beneficial, I am a 
consumer advocate who truly believes that folks have a right to know what 
they buy; a right that they may or may not exercise. The nutrition label on 
the average package of hot dogs indicates that up to 80 percent of the 
calories come from fat; people still buy them but they have the information 
to make that decision.

In Maine several years ago we passed a voluntary labeling law to allow 
dairies to indicate that they did not use milk from bovine somatropin (BST) 
treated cows. They could not say it was better, or more nutritious, but 
consumers got the message. Maine's remaining family owned dairy has 
definitely benefited from many consumers who are choosing Oakhurst milk as 
it comes from local farms that sign an agreement not to treat cows with BST.

 I believe that the same thing can happen with the implementation of the 
new law to allow voluntary labeling of GM-free foods. The benefits are:

- Providing consumers with information about the food they buy; oProviding 
a niche market and premium price for farmers/food producers who may not 
choose to be certified organic;
- Providing a state certification with rules for compliance and penalties 
for non compliance for those products that claim to be GM free.

We had a clear choice this year in the legislature, vote for a bill to ban 
GM foods, lose the bill and accomplish nothing or vote for this bill and 
finally get consumers information they can use and farmers' opportunities 
at a new market option. The Legislative process is like making sausage, it 
is important to listen to all sides, blend the concerns carefully and end 
up with a reasonable product; making it fiery hot or sticky sweet only gets 
it thrown away.

State Senator Marge Kilkelly (D) Lincoln County represents the 16th 
District in Maine's Senate. She serves on the Agriculture, Conservation & 
Forestry Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Committees. For more information, 
visit Sen. Kilkelly's website. <

Maine's Labeling Law Falls Short

Rep. Paul Volenik (D) District 129 in an interview with AgBiotech Buzz

In Maine Rep. Paul Volenik's mind, the issue isn't whether producers should 
be allowed to label their products free of genetically modified (GM) 
ingredients; it's whether such a label should be compulsory.

"I wasn't absolutely opposed to [Sen. Kilkelly's] bill," Volenik said in 
response to the AgBiotech Buzz Roundtable question. "It's just not 
complete. It begins the process of labeling, which is a step at least. I 
put in a bill that would require producers to label their foods as 
genetically modified (GM)."

Volenik comes to this view because he believes genetic engineering 
technology has spread so quickly that the U.S. Department of Agriculture 
(USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can't adequately test 
the products. Most of the tests are conducted by industry and even those 
testing methods can't look at the effects of long term exposure to foreign 
proteins engineered into GM food.

"I believe if there is a controversial technology, such as biotechnology, 
the people employing the technology should have to label the food as such," 
Volenik said. "The problem with the current bill is that it puts the onus 
on traditional food growers to label their foods as free of GM ingredients 
and creates penalties for mislabeling the products. It's inappropriate that 
a traditional form of agriculture should have to label its products in the 
face of this technological onslaught."

Volenik pointed to comments made during public hearings on the bill and in 
response to polling questions noting that consumers overwhelmingly wanted 
labels for foods that were GM. In addition, because foreign markets, 
especially Europe, want GM-free foods, Volenik sees compulsory labeling as 
a benefit to both Maine consumers and producers who want to market their 
products to the world. The voluntary labeling bill, however, doesn't 
benefit either group of constituents.

"In our hearings, the people wanted labels, but this bill benefits large 
corporate agribusiness which doesn't want labeling," Volenik noted. "At the 
hearings there were very few people testifying for [the industry]. 
Nevertheless, in the halls of at least this legislature, the influence of a 
few corporate lobbyists weighs far more than the voices of the people. And 
that's a sad thing."

Maine State Rep. Paul Volenik (D) represents Maine's District 129 
encompassing the city of Brooklin and the Cranberry Isles. He serves on the 
Maine House of Representative's Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, 
Marine Resources and Ethics Committees.

For more information, go to Rep. Volenik's website. <http://>


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