GENET archive


6-Regulation: Legislation California and North Carolina would void county biotech seed bans

                                  PART I
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TITLE:  Proposed legislation would void county biotech seed bans
SOURCE: Capital Press, USA, by Ali Bay
DATE:   11 Jul 2005

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Proposed legislation would void county biotech seed bans

SACRAMENTO - Lawmakers are considering a bill that would give the state
stronger authority to regulate seeds, legislation that would effectively
void voter-approved county bans of genetically engineered seed.

Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, the author of Senate Bill 1056, said local
bans approved in Mendocino, Trinity and Marin counties create confusion
for farmers and the seed industry.

"The goal of this legislation is simply to say that we have a consistent
policy," Florez said during a June 29 hearing of the bill. "Twelve other
states have passed laws like this."

The legislation, however, has biotechnology critics crying foul.

The Florez bill, originally written to address agricultural burning, was
drastically amended as the current session deadline approached for
lawmakers to get first hearings on proposed laws. The new bill also comes
on the heels of a similar last-minute Assembly bill that was gutted and
amended on June 28, only to be withdrawn the following day.

"It really smacks of a very undemocratic decision-making process," said
Ryan Zinn, a spokesman for the Organic Consumers Association in San
Francisco. "To see (lawmakers) overturn and close the door on any future
county-based initiatives is a really big blow to democracy."

Since Mendocino County voters approved a ban on genetically modified
organisms last March, a handful of other counties have also tried to put
a hold on genetically engineered agriculture. Marin and Trinity counties
followed suit with successful bans last November, while voters in three
other counties defeated similar measures.

According to the University of California, nearly a dozen other counties
are considering anti-GMO ballot measures, while nine counties have passed
pro-GMO resolutions to show support for the technology.

At a brief June 29 Assembly Agriculture Committee hearing, farm groups -
including the California Seed Association, California Women for
Agriculture, the Wine Institute and the California Association of
Winegrape Growers - showed up to support the Florez bill.

Many groups said they believe the state should have the exclusive right
to decide which seeds and plants can go into the ground.

"We are concerned about the precedent that (a county ban) might set if it
were to happen in a county where there is significant biotechnology,"
said Rich Matteis, executive vice president of CSA. "It creates an
unlevel playing field in our minds. Some growers have access to the
technology but others do not."

Earlier this year, anti-GMO activists gathered enough signatures to force
the issue onto the November ballot in Sonoma County. There, Farm Bureau
leaders said they're supportive of the new legislation.

"Basically our position is that biotechnology is good," said Lex
McCorvey, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. "We do
have people growing genetically-engineered crops in this county," he
said. Some farmers are growing biotech corn for dairies. "The irony of it
is they would be prohibited from planting something that they've been
planting for a number of years ... without consequence."

As of July 1, the California Farm Bureau Federation hadn't taken a
position on the Florez bill, but Dave Kranz, a spokesman for the
statewide organization said the Farm Bureau has always opposed county
regulations on biotech crops.

In hopes of stemming the tide of anti-GMO initiatives and sentiment, farm
groups statewide have created a coalition that plans to educate the
public on why the industry has largely supported the new technology.

"The coalition believes farmers need to take advantage of the latest
innovations, and biotechnology is one of those," said Marko Mlikotin, a
spokesman for the California Healthy Foods Coalition, which was
officially launched on June 27. "As other industries are taking advantage
of new innovations ... family farmers believe they too should have access
to innovation and technology."

Mlikotin said the coalition will use its website, direct mailers and
grassroots programs to share the "family farmer's perspective on
biotechnology and its benefits."

Still, the entire agricultural community isn't aligned on the issue.

Some organic growers have come out in support of the county bans, and at
least one farm group has enrolled its opposition to the new seed
regulation bill.

Pete Price, a lobbyist for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, a
Davis-based group that supports family-scale sustainable agriculture,
said the legislation is an "anti-democratic end-run" around the citizens
of the state. He argued at the June 29 hearing that local voters should
have the right to address the issue of biotechnology since there is no
state law that regulates genetic engineering, except for a policy giving
the California Rice Commission the authority to approve new rice varieties.

At least 15 states across the nation have either tried to pass, or have
already approved, similar pre-exemption laws. In the West, Arizona and
Idaho lawmakers have approved such bills.

"We've been seeing this across the country," said OCA's Zinn. "They're
trying to stem off the California phenomenon (of passing local, anti-GMO

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

TITLE:  Bill would let state rule on banning modified crops
SOURCE: Winston-Salem Journal, USA, by David Rice
DATE:   10 Jul 2005

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Bill would let state rule on banning modified crops

As the debate over genetically modified crops in North Carolina
accelerates, the General Assembly is considering legislation to limit
just who controls what crops can be grown in the state.

In response to the efforts of three counties in California to ban
genetically modified plants, a bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee
would give the N.C. Board of Agriculture sole authority to ban plants in
North Carolina.

The bill has already passed the House. Its backers say that North
Carolina farmers - who already grow 3 million acres of genetically
engineered corn, soybeans and cotton - need to know they are free to grow
their crops.

"The farmers have to plant this stuff in order to be competitive and stay
in business," said Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, the committee's
chairman and sponsor of companion legislation. "Without it, we couldn't
feed the world.

"Who's going to make the decisions about those plants? Is it going to be
the local governments or the Board of Agriculture, which has the
expertise? I think it needs to stay with the Board of Agriculture,"
Albertson said.

But organic farmers, in particular, have warned about the threat of
cross-pollination and contamination of their own crops by genetically
modified crops.

The bill would remove control from local officials, said Sen. Janet
Cowell, D-Wake. She and others point out that organic farming is a
lucrative niche.

"We've invested a lot in biotech in this state and we want to get a good
return on that. But we're also extremely well-positioned for organic,"
Cowell said.

Organically grown corn and soybeans sell for two to 2.3 times the price
of conventional corn, said Wade Hubers, who grows both conventional and
organic crops in Hyde County.

Though his organic corn crop had a 30 percent lower yield last year than
his conventional corn, Hubers said, he still earned $110 more per acre on
the organic corn.

"We're not looking at it like it's a philosophy," said Mac Gibbs, the
acting extension director in Hyde County. "We see it as an opportunity to
grow $5-a-bushel corn instead of $2.50-a-bushel corn."

Albertson discounts the relative importance of organic crops, though.

"We currently have people growing organic food. It's about one-tenth of 1
percent," he said. "We have farmers growing 3 million acres of
genetically modified crops."

Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight is a longtime supporter of efforts
to build the biotech industry in North Carolina. Basnight's district
includes the research station in Washington County where scientists are
studying rice that Ventria Bioscience has planted to produce human milk

But Basnight is also making plans to serve organic chicken at his Nags
Head restaurant because he says that more consumers are demanding it.

Basnight said that he wants legislators to study how to make sure biotech
crops don't threaten organic ones.

"We want to protect both entities. And we don't know how to do it. So
we're going to study it," he said.

The bill to let the Board of Agriculture regulate plants in the state
will move forward, Basnight said, but he also wants to add slots for an
organic farmer and a consumer to the farmer-dominated board.

But Gibbs, Hubers and others say they are confident that organic and
genetically modified crops can coexist in North Carolina.

Richard Reich, an assistant commissioner of agriculture, said that North
Carolina farmers are accustomed to managing transgenic crops and treat
them with proper respect for the risks.

"Biotech uses for agricultural crops do hold promise for farmers and for
society as a whole," Reich said. "At the same time, it's important to
recognize the need to follow protocols and to safeguard all of our crops
- conventional crops, organic crops and transgenic crops."

If Ventria Bioscience wins approval to expand its production of its
pharmaceutical-producing rice in North Carolina, "We want to do it in a
highly managed and controlled situation," Reich said.

"You don't take these things lightly and start doling out the seed," he
said. "We feel it would be highly managed and affect limited areas."


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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