GENET archive


6-Regulation: Seeds of conflict take root in debate over Michigan (USA) farming bill

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TITLE:  Bill could change local seed rights
SOURCE: The State News, USA, by Melanie Thomas
DATE:   07 Feb 2006

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to read more about the bill:

Bill could change local seed rights

Derek Moy, 33, of Okemos picks through a crate of organic potatoes at the
MSU Student Organic Farm. Moy is one of about 120 families that are part
of Community Supported Agriculture. Moy said he likes the fact that the
vegetables are near his home and are fresh even in the middle of winter.

Local governments could lose the right to decide what type of seeds are
grown in their counties if a Michigan Senate proposal passes.
Senate Bill 777, introduced in November 2005, would remove a local
government's power to decide whether farmers can grow genetically
modified seeds or organic seeds.

Genetically modified seeds are technologically manipulated to become
resistant to herbicides or have more nutrients, said Sen. Jerry Van
Woerkom, R-Norton Shores.

Organic farmers are worried about the legislation causing more organic
and genetically modified seed farms to be plotted by each other.

Michigan's most popular genetically modified crops are corn and soybeans.
Corn, a wind-pollinated crop, can deposit genetically modified pollen
into adjacent fields, possibly affecting a farmer's organic certification.

"The genetically modified organisms can't be contained," said MSU Student
Organic Farm assistant manager Jay Tomczak. "Those genetically modified
genes carry over into another field, and I can't sell my crop as
organically certified."

Organic crops are certified through certain standards that the USDA
determines, Tomczak said. Using environment-friendly practices and not
using synthetic pesticides or herbicides are standards organic farmers
abide by, he said.

Farmers are concerned with the legislation's democratic value, Tomczak said.

The state government will be taking away a local government's ability to
decide what is best for its residents, he said.

Counties in California have restricted growing genetically modified seeds
since 2004, Tomczak said. It was those actions in California which caused
agricultural corporations to feel threatened and begin petitioning state
legislators to prevent county restrictions, he said.

"They are preemptively eliminating the right of local governments to have
a choice in what they want and value in their communities," Tomczak said.

Proposed by Van Woerkom, the Michigan legislation is expected to help
farmers become more successful by planting organic or genetically
modified seeds where they want.

"People in the farm community have been using genetically modified seeds
for years," Van Woerkom said. "They don't want to worry about not being
able to use it in a certain township."

Fifteen other states have pending or passed laws similar to Senate Bill
777, he said.

"Other states have turned the state into a patchwork of where you can and
can't plant certain seeds," Van Woerkom said. "We want to bring some
stability to our farmers."

Genetically modified seeds benefit the environment and human health, he said.

They can be altered to have more nutritional value and use less
herbicides and pesticides, he said.

More genetically modified seeds will create more competition between
farmers, said MSU plant biology and pathology associate professor Richard

Farmers yield more crops from genetically modified seeds, he said.

If a county decides it doesn't want genetically modified crops grown in
its area, it would hinder a non-organic farmer from growing crops and
turning a profit, a possible danger for the industry, Allison said.

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Seeds of conflict take root in debate over Michigan farming bill
SOURCE: Associated Press, by David Eggert
DATE:   29 Jan 2006

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Seeds of conflict take root in debate over Michigan farming bill

LANSING, Mich. - Food is their livelihood.

But for Michelle Lutz, an organic vegetable farmer, and Herb Smith, a
planter of genetically modified soybeans, the job requires more these
days than simply tending their fields in St. Clair and Monroe counties.

They're on opposite sides of a budding battle in Lansing over legislation
that pits natural, chemical-free crops against genetically engineered
seeds. The bill not only is prompting a basic fight for economic
viability among growers, it's raising questions about food safety and who
should regulate it.

"We give people a unique relationship with their food," said the 34-year-
old Lutz, whose 80-acre organic farm 55 miles north of Detroit ships
fresh produce to 1,000 families every week from June through October.
"They get to know who, how, why, where and when."

Lutz is worried, however, about legislation in the state Senate that
would prevent local governments from barring the planting of seeds,
including genetically modified crops. Pollen from farms with genetically
modified crops can drift onto her Yale-area farm and corrupt the
"organic" status of her food, she says.

Five California counties and cities have restricted growing genetically
modified organisms since 2004. Fourteen states have since passed laws
pre-empting similar measures in their backyards, prodded by large seed
companies and an increasing number of farmers who plant their genetically
modified products.

Smith, who farms 900 acres near Temperance, says he supports the Senate
bill because he could keep planting his engineered soybeans - which have
received federal approval - without intrusion from local governments.
Because the soybeans are engineered to specifically resist a cheaper weed
killer, Smith says he saves about $20 an acre by not using conventional

"I wouldn't sell you stuff out of here that I didn't think was safe,"
said Smith, 76, who first planted genetically modified soybeans in 1996.

Up to 85 percent of U.S. soybeans are genetically modified along with 45
percent of corn. It's estimated that 70 percent of processed foods on
U.S. grocery shelves contain genetically modified ingredients.

"I'm not afraid of change. I'm not afraid of GMOs," Smith said. "I'm
concerned that well-meaning people will pass rules that will destroy
farming as we know it."

Critics worry that so-called "frankenfoods" pose allergy risks to humans,
contaminate the natural ecosystem, lead to more chemical spraying and
create other unknown, long-term health dangers. Another big concern is
government oversight.

Douglas Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at the Washington-based Center
for Food Safety, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lets the
agricultural industry decide how best to test the safety of genetically
modified seeds.

"It is a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house," said Gurian-
Sherman, a former Environmental Protection Agency scientist who recently
testified before a Senate panel in Lansing. Since there are few federal
regulations, he says, "the state and local jurisdictions are necessary to
protect the public and send a message to Washington that they need to do
a better job."

The bill's sponsor in the state Senate, Republican Gerald Van Woerkom of
Norton Shores, says genetically modified crops generally benefit society
by reducing the amount of chemicals in the environment, among other
things. But he wants his committee to hold off on voting on the measure
until he looks into Gurian-Sherman's testimony questioning federal oversight.

The Michigan Farm Bureau and other backers of the bill say safety fears
are unfounded and federal officials have created proper regulatory
checkpoints. Biotechnology cuts down on the use of herbicides and
pesticides, which saves fuel and labor costs. It also makes drought-
resistant crops that grow faster, produces better yields and reduces
greenhouse gases, they argue.

Opponents say the bill isn't necessary because local governments in
Michigan haven't passed rules against genetically modified crops. Yet
farmers, feeling outnumbered as urban sprawl reaches their communities,
think it's only a matter of time before township boards and county
commissions meddle in their seed choices.

Tonia Ritter, legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, says the
emotional issue has split members of her group.


The seed bill is Senate Bill 777.

Maple Creek Farm:
Michigan Farm Bureau:
Michigan Legislature:


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