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6-Regulation: Montana (USA) debates GE wheat liability bill

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TITLE:  Altered wheat grain liability debated
SOURCE: The Billings Gazette, USA, by Jennifer McKee
DATE:   Feb 19, 2003

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Altered wheat grain liability debated

HELENA -- Montana's wheat farmers stand to lose hundreds of millions of
dollars if the economics of genetically engineered wheat play out badly,
and somebody ought to be liable for that loss, a group of farmers told
lawmakers Tuesday.

"This is a 'look before you leap' bill," said Brooks Dailey, executive
director of Montana Farmers Union, who spoke in support of House Bill
522, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Lenhart, D-Glendive.

The bill, which was the subject of a House Agriculture Committee hearing,
says the companies holding patents for genetically engineered wheat are
liable for any financial damages incurred by farmers or grain elevator
owners as a result of the engineered wheat. The bill is intended to
protect people who didn't plant genetically engineered seeds, but were
harmed anyway. Farmers who knowingly planted engineered seeds could not
hold the manufacturer liable under Lenhart's bill.

Opponents of the bill said it would effectively shut out Montana from the
biotech revolution.

The problem with genetically modified wheat, said Dailey, is not so much
with the seeds themselves, but with the perception of genetically
engineered crops the world over, particularly in Asia and the European
Union, which buy the bulk of Montana's exported wheat. Buyers in those
countries have said they don't want genetically engineered foods.
onthenet HB 522

The problem, Dailey said, is that there's no good way to completely
separate genetically engineered wheat from conventional wheat. Most grain
storage facilities were built long before genetic engineering was even
possible, and some foreign wheat buyers will reject an entire batch of
wheat if it contains just a few genetically engineered grains.

What's more, said Helen Waller, a Circle area farmer, genetically
engineered wheat can easily blow into a farmer's field and cross
pollinate with conventional wheat.

"It is impossible to buy crop insurance for seed drift," Waller said, who
added that if she doesn't choose to plant engineered seeds, she shouldn't
be the one hurting if Asian markets reject Montana's wheat wholesale.

Lochiel Edwards, vice-president of the Montana Grain Growers Association,
spoke against the bill, saying it would essentially block all genetically
engineered wheat from coming into Montana and shut the state out of the
cutting edge of agriculture.

"This would serve to isolate Montana," he said.

Pam Langley, of the Montana Seed Trade Council, said the bill may even be
unconstitutional by interfering with free trade between states.

The committee made no decisions on the bill.


for more details on the wheat liability bill: