GENET archive


9-Misc: Mixed news on GE Free Maine (USA)

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

TITLE:  GE-free group supports ban in Brooklin
SOURCE: Bangor Daily News, USA, by Sharon Kiley Mack
DATE:   30 Mar 2005

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GE-free group supports ban in Brooklin

BROOKLIN - Brooklin voters will head to the polls on Saturday to vote on
whether they will designate their community as the first in Maine to ban
the growing and cultivation of genetically engineered crops or animals.
The warrant article reads: "Shall the town vote to protect its
agriculture and marine economies, environment and private property from
irreversible Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) contamination by
declaring Brooklin a GMO-free zone?"

"The purpose of the article is to ask Brooklin residents to protect our
town lands and waters by not cultivating genetically modified organisms -
plants, trees, fish and animals - in Brooklin," Marilyn Anderson, who
submitted the petition, said recently. "Once introduced into the
environment, these invasive life forms can never be recalled."

Since Brooklin has several organic farms, the issue centers on the feared
contamination of organic crops by GE crops and the resulting legal

"Simply stated, this article is about preserving the environment and
human health," Anderson said. She said it would not be enacted as a town
ordinance, but rather as a statement of policy.

The creation of a genetically engineered-free zone is being promoted
vigorously by GE Free Maine, a 6-month-old advocacy group based in Mount
Desert that is seeking to create GE-free zones around the state.

"It is our duty to take the issue to town meeting, the purest of our
democratic institutions, a place where the issue can be decided face-to-
face by local residents without the interference of out-of-state
lobbyists," said Rob Fish, co-founder of GE Free Maine. "Towns have a
responsibility to protect the rights of farmers and landowners who choose
not to grow [GE crops] on their land."

Brooklin Selectman George Eaton said recently that the petition was
accepted by the Board of Selectmen for inclusion in the town meeting
warrant not because the board was taking a stand for or against the
issue, but because it wanted voters to have a say.

"This issue is about preserving community, about reclaiming the rights of
farmers and landowners to keep their land free from GE organisms," Fish
said recently. "By declaring a moratorium on planting GE seeds,
communities can assert that they, not corporations, define our food system."

GE Free Maine, which has about 800 people on its mailing list, is funded
through private donations and grants from the New England Grassroots
Environmental Fund Force and the Brower New Leadership Fund.

Most GE seeds and crops are produced by two major chemical companies,
Monsanto and DuPont. Monsanto has patented its GE seeds and, according to
a report issued in January by the Center for Food Safety, the company has
initiated lawsuits against 140 farmers for patent infringement. Many of
these farmers maintain that their fields were contaminated with seed or
drifting pollen from nearby GE farmers.

"Maine is at a crucial juncture in the debate of GE crops," Fish said,
adding that only 6,100 acres out of 1.25 million acres of Maine farmland
are planted with GE crops, all of it corn and soybeans.

"But biotech companies are pushing for increases," Fish said. "They are
also planning to introduce genetically engineered trees, salmon and other
plants and animals in the next few years."

GE Free Maine co-founder Meg Gilmartin pointed out that "about 70 percent
of all processed food contains genetically engineered ingredients,"

"There has been virtually no nonbiased testing. We are not sure of the
health effects. We are not sure of the environmental effects."

"GE farming does what nature never would do," Fish maintained. "Should we
really throw these crops out there without testing? We need to let
science and testing catch up and provide a legal framework to protect
farmers from unwanted contamination."

Fish and Gilmartin said that Maine is in a unique position to become a
GE-free state. A bill to achieve that was substantially changed during
the last legislative session into a study that concluded that Maine's
efforts should center on promoting the growing organic market as well as
traditional agriculture.

Last fall, petitions similar to the one in Brooklin were submitted to
selectmen in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. Kennebunk selectmen did not
place the issue on their town meeting warrant and GE Free supporters
still are working with Kennebunkport officials.

"Right now, it is virtually a race to see which state will be GE-free
first," Fish said. "That state will be able to use that designation as a
powerful marketing tool."

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

TITLE:  GE Free Maine loses bid
SOURCE: The Bangor Daily News, USA, by Sharon Kiley Mack
DATE:   26 Mar 2005

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GE Free Maine loses bid

The worldwide, hot-button issue of the genetic engineering of seeds and
crops got a bit hotter this week in Maine when a group advocating a
moratorium on GE products lost its bid to create a GE-free zone in
Kennebunkport. GE Free Maine, based in Trenton, is a small coalition of
political and social justice advocates that is trying to establish the
entire state of Maine as a GE-free zone. Supporters submitted the
petition last month to the Kennebunkport selectmen, but they rejected it
after they received a written report from the Maine Department of
Agriculture that said creating such a moratorium would violate Maine's
Right To Farm Law.

A similar petition was accepted recently by selectmen in the Hancock
County town of Brooklin and will be voted on at that community's annual
town meeting next Saturday.

The petition has pitted GE-free supporters against the state Agriculture
Department and has caused a philosophical rift with the Maine Organic
Farmers and Gardeners Association over GEFM's tactics.

The department's policy centers on "the benefits of coexistence," a
policy that proposes there is room in Maine for all types of agriculture
- conventional, organic and genetically modified - if all farmers are
considerate of the production decisions of the other, Ned Porter, Maine's
deputy agriculture commissioner, said Thursday.

"GE varieties have been approved [by the FDA] for general release and, as
such, are no different than hybrid varieties," Porter said.

The department maintains that since there are no differences, the state's
current Best Management Practices policy covers conventional and GE crops.

GEFM, however, maintains the crops are biologically different, and
therefore, no BMP policy exists for GE seeds and crops.

In a letter to the town of Kennebunkport earlier this month, Peter
Mosher, director of the Office of Agricultural, Natural and Rural
Resources, wrote that GE crops require no more regulatory oversight than
crops developed by traditional breeding methods and that the moratorium
would prohibit the use of a Best Management Practice, the planting of a
crop with a beneficial trait developed by genetic engineering.

Members of the GEFM coalition are furious. GEFM's Web site, maintained by
founder Rob Fish, posted an action alert Wednesday that read, in part:
"GE Free Maine finds the department's letter and position underhanded,
not in line with the rule of law, and an affront to the idea of 'home
rule' for Maine towns and the sanctity of town meeting. The department
has ... overstepped its authority. We understand the town's concern over
potential lawsuits down the line, but feel the town was misled by the
Department of Agriculture."

Meanwhile, the petition effort itself has irked some MOFGA members.

Spencer Aitel, a MOFGA board member, saying that he was speaking for
himself only, pointed out this week that "MOFGA has spent decades" trying
to work amicably with state and federal officials. He said that before
GEFM began such an aggressive campaign, its members should have first
become part of the agriculture community.

MOFGA's president, Sharon Tisher, and Aitel both said Wednesday that both
groups have a common goal: to promote responsible farming and support
organic endeavors.

But Aitel accused GEFM of pushing forward without paying its dues. He
said the coalition's initial efforts were in Kennebunkport, where not a
single commercial farmer remains, and the group is not made up of
farmers. "With no farmers, you have no validity; you've got no history,"
he said.

Both founders of the 6-month-old GEFM, Fish and Megan Gilmartin, have
described themselves as activists for social change with an experience in
"backyard gardening."

Aitel said it is GEFM's petition tactics that have irked him the most.

"If all you do is confront, at the end of the day you will have nothing.
We need to bring people together, not split them apart," Aitel said.
"When you choose confrontational tactics, you create a divisive issue and
that is not the way to change people's minds."

Aitel said GEFM wanted MOFGA to endorse its infrastructure and provide
publicity for its efforts, but MOFGA declined.

Robert Tardy of Palmyra, a farmer, former legislator and member of the
Legislature's Agriculture Committee, also is a lobbyist for Croplife
America, which is an association of manufacturers of agricultural biotech
products. Tardy often has been on the other side of the fence when
arguing policies with MOFGA. He said all groups need to work together for
a common solution to concerns.

"What is needed is a protocol for dealing with any potential for cross-
pollination [and this goes beyond GE crops]," he said recently. "A number
to call and an extension agent to help work out any potential conflicts
between neighboring farmers. That's all the government that's needed."


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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