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2-Plants: South Dakota (USA) legislators asked to study GE crops

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TITLE:  Legislators asked to study genetic crops
SOURCE: Associated Press/Aberdeen News, USA, by Joe Kafka
DATE:   Mar 27, 2003

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Legislators asked to study genetic crops

PIERRE - State policies should be developed to ensure that farmers
growing the new wave of genetically altered crops don't ruin things for
their neighbors, some South Dakota legislators say.

But others say biotech crops are carefully checked out by the federal
government, arguing that regulations by individual states would create a
bureaucratic mishmash.

Both sides agree, however, that the issue should be studied.

The Legislature's Executive Board has been asked to authorize a summer
review of genetically altered crops. An April 14 meeting has been set by
the board to pick study topics for legislators.

The Senate Agriculture Committee is suggesting a study into the
compatibility of traditional, biotech and organic crops. The House
Agriculture Committee would like a review of the technical and economic
impacts of so-called transgenic crops, which are engineered by gene splicing.

Hoping to head off derogatory information about biotech crops, the South
Dakota Agri-Business Association has invited all legislators to an Aug.
7-8 workshop at South Dakota State University.

South Dakota lawmakers rejected a bill this year that would have required
the state Agriculture Department to regulate genetically modified wheat.
The measure was offered by Sen. John Koskan, R-Wood. He says South Dakota
State University may be the first in the nation to develop spring wheat
that is resistant to Roundup, the popular Monsanto weed killer.

Koskan, an organic farmer who raises wheat, blue corn, millet and
sunflowers, says genetically altered wheat is not welcome in many nations
that buy American crops.

South Dakota should develop regulations to prevent traditional and
organic wheat crops from being exposed to fields of biotech wheat, Koskan
says. Similar safeguards are needed so genetically modified wheat is not
mixed with other wheat during storage and shipping, he says.

In a study, Iowa State University economics professor Robert Wisner
suggests that U.S. wheat exports could be seriously damaged by the
release of biotech spring wheat.

Foreign consumers may be even more opposed to genetically altered wheat
than they are other biotech crops, Wisner says. While transgenic corn and
soybeans are primarily used for livestock feed and additives, he points
out that wheat is generally made into breadstuffs.

Those who worry about transgenic wheat are getting the cart before the
horse, argues Rick Vallery, executive director of South Dakota Wheat Inc.

The SDSU research, which is financed by South Dakota Wheat and involves
insertion of the Monsanto Roundup gene into a couple of publicly
developed spring wheat varieties, may not be complete for three or four
years, he says.

Vallery says genetically altered spring wheat will not be released to
farmers unless it is first approved by the Environmental Protection
Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and U.S. Agriculture Department.

Before transgenic wheat being developed at SDSU will be commercialized,
other conditions must be met, he says.

''We made an agreement with Monsanto that unless the governments of
Canada and Japan accept it, we're not going to release it,'' Vallery
says. ''We're trying to be responsible.''

Spring wheat is primarily grown in the northern third of South Dakota and
in North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota.

Larry Gabriel, S.D. agriculture secretary, says the subject of biotech
crops is controversial enough that it cannot be ignored. Legislators
should study the topic, he says.

''If we continue to put our heads in the sand, the problem doesn't go
away,'' Gabriel says.

''Our challenge is: How can we let neighboring farmers coexist where one
of them wants to be an organic producer, one a traditional producer and
one a producer of transgenic crops?''