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6-Regulation: Compromise collapses on Vermont's (USA) liability law on GE crops

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TITLE:  Compromise collapses on Vt.'s modified-crops bill
SOURCE: Rutland Herlad, USA, by Louis Porter
DATE:   03 Mar 2006

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Compromise collapses on Vt.'s modified-crops bill

MONTPELIER -- An effort to make seed manufacturers financially liable for
genetically modified crops was dealt a serious blow Thursday as a
legislative compromise fell apart.

Both the House and the Senate have passed a version of the bill. But the
two versions differ significantly, and in meetings over the last several
weeks a conference committee of three legislators from each body failed
to reach a compromise.

The impasse may not be a death blow. A new conference committee could be
convened to start working on the bill again before the end of the session.

Genetically modified organisms or GMOs have been an issue in the
Statehouse for several years. Farmers raising non-modified crops
currently have no choice but to sue neighboring farmers if they want to
recover damages if their crops are cross-pollinated by genetically
altered seeds.

Proponents of the liability bill want the seed makers to be held responsible.

But opponents have argued that the measure is unnecessary and is, in
fact, a covert attempt to limit the use of such seeds in Vermont.

"It's quite unfortunate we were unable to reach an agreement," said Sen.
John Campbell, D-Windsor. "If this bill passed I would hope we would
never have to use it. But (farmers) should be able to seek redress
through the courts against the owners of the seeds."

Senate and the House members of the conference committee both said
they'd moved significantly from their original proposals.

"We did make a lot of progress," said Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton.
"It's a shame. It's an important issue to a lot of people."

The Senate version of the bill included "strict liability," a provision
which would have virtually assumed that contamination by genetically
modified crops was the responsibility of seed manufacturers and patent

The House version of the bill was not restricted to genetically modified
seeds, but was more conservative in assigning liability.

The final version of the bill discussed in the conference committee
would not have included strict liability, instead relying on "private
nuisance" law. But the proposal also would have limited the defenses
that seed manufacturers could use when fighting lawsuits over the spread
of genetically modified seeds.

That is essentially strict liability by another name, said Margaret
Laggis, a lobbyist for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group.

"The House came 75 percent of the way to the Senate and the Senate
didn't accept it," she said.

But the work on the bill is probably not over, she said.

"They are not going to give up and go away," Laggis said.

But after all this work failed to reach a compromise, she said, she does
not imagine an agreement can be reached now.

"Unless someone has an incredibly creative solution, I don't see them
reaching a compromise," Laggis said.

But the House members' proposed changes to the bill would have made it
too difficult for farmers harmed by the spread of genetically modified
seeds to reclaim damages, said Amy Shollenberger of Rural Vermont, a
group that has been lobbying for the bill.

"A farmer, no matter what they do, can't keep pollen from drifting onto
their property," she said. "The Senate stood strong for us on a key
provision because it would have set too high a bar for farmers to prove

Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, R-Newport, is a supporter of strict liability for
genetically modified seeds.

Strict liability comes, after all, from ancient English law dealing with
agriculture, he said. In that case a farmer whose artificial dam burst
was held liable for the damage caused to a neighbor's property.

The precedent established originally in the case of an artificial dam
should be held for genetically modified seeds, he said.

However, the Senate's proposed compromise was, essentially, strict
liability and the House conference members did not feel they could alter
their body's bill that much, Kilmartin said.

"I don't know where it will go from here," he said.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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