GENET archive


9-Misc: GMO bans discussed in Sonoma and Napa (USA)

                                  PART I
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TITLE:  Genetically engineered food ban proposed: Idea sparks divergent
SOURCE: Sonoma Index-Tribune, USA, by Sarah Berkley
DATE:   14 Jan 2005

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Genetically engineered food ban proposed: Idea sparks divergent viewpoints

01.14.05 - Riding on the coattails of similar bans in Mendocino and other
counties, a proposal to outlaw the growth of genetically modified
organisms in Sonoma County is gaining momentum.

Proponents say the prohibition is needed to protect the natural
environment and Sonoma County's agricultural heritage. However, some
people working in agriculture worry that the ban could actually prevent
environmentally friendly methods that eliminate the need for chemical
pesticides or herbicides. And at least one biotechnology expert says
there is no scientific support for the idea that genetically modified
plants are a threat.

According to the text of the proposed ordinance or initiative, the ruling
would affect "transgenic" or "genetically engineered" (GE) organisms -
those whose DNA has been modified by transgenic manipulation. If put into
effect, the county law would put a 10-year moratorium on growing any kind
of genetically modified food, animal, fish or crop.

Purchasing, selling or distributing items with genetically modified
ingredients would be exempt. For example, growing genetically altered
tomatoes in Sonoma County would be banned, but grocery stores could sell
genetically altered tomatoes that were grown somewhere else.

GE-Free Sonoma County - a group of environmentalists, community members
and organic farmers - collected more than 45,000 signatures for the
proposed ballot measure. To get on the ballot, at least 29,000 of those
signatures need to be verified by Feb. 16 as belonging to registered voters.

A special election for the measure, which might happen later this year,
would cost the county $500,000, according to news sources.

As an alternative option to an election, the county's board of
supervisors could adopt the initiative as an ordinance.

Drafters of the proposal state that such a measure protects the welfare
of "our agricultural heritage, our natural environment, our public
health, and our inalienable constitutional rights..." according to the
original text, available at

The state does not provide any kind of regulatory structure to monitor
genetically modified crops - or their impacts. Many believe that the seed
stock of such crops, carried by wind or birds, could contaminate
neighboring farms or the local ecosystem, or that genetically altered
fish in fish breeding farms could escape into the wild and manipulate
native species.

Right now, the proposal points out that only four transgenic crops have
been commercialized on a large scale - soy, cotton, canola and corn. But
over the next few years "there will be dozens of fruits, vegetables,
nuts, ornamental and other transgenic crops approved ... Many of these
new transgenic varieties will be in crops which are grown in Sonoma
County," according to the proposal text.

"A decision to release transgenic organisms into our farms and ecosystems
cannot be a decision made by just a few private biotechnology
corporations - but must be a public decision, decided after rigorous,
public scientific review and extensive public debate."

The idea is that the 10-year ban will allow for this study and
deliberation; the current proposal is also said to be more of a
compromise between farming and environmental camps.

Sonoma Ecology Center Executive Director Richard Dale said that center
staff members are "seriously interested" in exploring the issue and are
currently in the information-gathering stage. He said the center did not
have an official stance on the proposal, at least not yet.

Meanwhile, Sonoma Valley grape grower Ned Hill said he has concerns about
the proposal. Hill said that little time was allowed for local
associations such as the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance to
make any suggestions for the ordinance. It was presented to the alliance
shortly before being filed with the county, and drafters of the propsoal
did not ask for any input or opinions, Hill said.

He added that the ordinance is more of a marketing campaign "to pit
(Sonoma) against other counties in the state."

The grape-growing community is definitely "divided on the issue," he said.

He would like to see a state policy on the issue, because he believes it
could prove too divisive for counties. Furthermore, he's not sure a
blanket ban should apply to grapevines.

"Vines do not produce pollen that is actively distributed by the wind,"
he said. He also added, "As I see it in grapes, the potential use of
genetic engineering would result in less chemicals used, not more, as in
field crops made by Monsanto."

Eighty-five percent of the chemicals used in grapes prevent powdery
mildew. If mildew-resistant grapes were developed by having their cell
walls slightly modified, "we would no longer need to apply (chemicals.)"

Scientists, too, are divided on the issue.

Martina Newell-McGloughlin, an expert who has testified in Congress on
biotechnology issues and heads up the University of California's
Biotechnology Research and Education Program at UC Davis, said in a
recent report, "On balance, neither the weight of scientific research nor
the great majority of the scientific community support the view that
(genetically modified) organisms pose more novel or grave dangers to the
environment or human health than organisms developed by other means."

"Agriculturalists have been genetically modifying animals and crop plants
through cross breeding, mutation selection and culling those with
undesirable characteristics for hundreds of years," she said. "Virtually
all domesticated crops and animals have been subjected to varying degrees
of genetic modification."

Genetically altered crops are highly regulated, she said. Her report also
cited a European Union Commission Report from 2001 in which a 15-year
study on genetically modified crops across 15 different countries found
no new risks "to human health or the environment beyond the usual
uncertainties of conventional plant breeding."

Genetically engineered crops could actually provide more ecologically
healthy fields, especially in poor developing countries, she said.

For example, the use of genetically engineered cotton in China eliminated
the need for 156 million pounds of pesticides.

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

TITLE:  Napa grapegrowers to host debate on genetic engineering
SOURCE: Napa News, USA, by Gabe Friedman
DATE:   12 Jan 2005

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Napa grapegrowers to host debate on genetic engineering
Symposium on altering crops will be held at Copia

The potential for genetic engineering to dramatically impact the wine
industry by producing disease resistant vines or reducing its reliance on
pesticides or water is an idea that looms on the horizon, but the Napa
Valley Grapegrowers would like to see it discussed before it moves any closer.

Laws to ban genetically modified crops have been passed already in
Mendocino, Marin and Trinity counties, and last week signatures were
turned in for a ballot initiative in Sonoma County calling for a 10-year ban.

Jennifer Kopp, executive director of the NVG, said that public
understanding of the risks and benefits of using genetically engineered
crops hasn't advanced as quickly as the science or the movement to outlaw
it. So on Thursday, the NVG will host a symposium on genetically modified
organisms at Copia with a roster of speakers that features some of the
most influential thinkers in the field.

Kim Waddell, executive director of the American Vineyard Foundation,
which funds viticultural and enological studies, will provide the opening
remarks for a discussion that has advocates from both sides of the issue.
Included on the panel of speakers is Dave Henson, director of the
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, who is leading the campaign for a
ballot initiative in Sonoma County and Tom Nickson, director of the
Ecological Technology Center for Monsanto Company.

"Most of us don't have the biological language to discuss this," said
Kopp, who noted that people may not understand the differences between
genetically modified, genetically engineered and other terms.

Genetically engineered refers to transplanting a gene from a different
species, while genetic modification can be used as an umbrella term that
refers to other techniques as well. For example, scientists have been
using chemicals for decades to cause random mutations in genetic
material, and in this way created genetically modified plants. For
centuries people have bred plants to produce desirable characteristics or
remove undesirable characteristics, according to Dave Magnus, director of
Stanford University's Center for Biomedical Ethics and a speaker at the

"Rather than wait until it's imminent upon us in the form of a ballot
measure, I'd like to have the discussion now within the industry and the
community," said Kopp.

Both Kopp and Henson said they did not believe that anyone in Napa County
is mounting a campaign for a ballot initiative to outlaw genetically
modified crops.

Waddell said that the timeline for developing a transgenic vine that is
immune to Pierce's Disease, for instance, was still at least five to 10
years away. However, genetically modified yeasts are already used in the
wine industry, though probably not locally, and genetically modified
cover crops could soon arrive.

Henson, who said that the variety of crops grown in Sonoma County made it
necessary to pass a ban, added that he believes grapes are probably one
of the last plants that will be genetically modified.

"The French are going to go ballistic before they allow a genetically
modified cabernet sauvignon to be called a cabernet sauvignon," said
Henson. "And if you can't call a cabernet a cabernet, what are you going
to call it?"

Tom Nickson, the representative from Monsanto, which produces genetically
modified corn, said that there is an urgency behind releasing genetically
engineered crops, though. The environment benefits when farmers use crops
that require less pesticides, he said.

"There's a risk of not releasing it and that's the risk of farmers
continuing to farm with the technology they have," said Nickson.

But opponents, such as Henson, argue there is a need for long term
testing of genetically engineered crops before they are released into the
environment where they cannot be contained. Henson said that the proposed
ballot initiative for Sonoma County only bans reproductive genetically
modified organisms that have the ability to contaminate the environment
and that it allows for controlled experimentation.

Genetically engineered strains of corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops
are already widely used in the United States and Nickson said that people
should assume it is in their diet if they eat processed foods. But Kopp
said the idea of holding a symposium now is to inform people before the
technology is developed. Carole Meredith, a professor at the University
of California Davis who has studied grape genetics and helped map the
genetic origin of Zinfandel, will also speak at Thursday's symposium.

"One of the things about the wine industry is that we very rarely get
blind-sided by an issue," said Kopp. "We're usually out in front of it."


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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