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6-Regulation: San Joaquin County (USA) supervisors support bioengineered crops

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TITLE:  Supervisors support bioengineered crops
SOURCE: Tracy Press / San Joaquin News Service, USA, by Roman Gokhman
DATE:   08 Mar 2006

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Supervisors support bioengineered crops

San Joaquin County officials hardly made a big deal two weeks ago when
supervisors voted to support farmers who grow genetically engineered crops.

The county became the 12th in the state to pass such a resolution, which
espouses the potential for engineering research to find cures for diseases
and the promise of engineered food to be healthier for Americans than
organic crops.

Not all believe that biotechnology, and its agricultural application in
genetically engineered seeds, is a good thing. Some believe the plants
could pose health risks because the industry is not regulated strictly
enough by the federal government.

“We believe there needs to be much broader discussion about this,” said
Becky Tarbotton of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, a group that
opposes genetically engineered crops.

Voters in Mendocino and Marin counties have gone so far as to pass
anti-biotechnology initiatives. Administrators in Trinity County passed an
ordinance in opposition of biotechnology, reportedly to avoid the cost of
placing a similar initiative on the county ballot.

Anti-biotechnology attempts in Butte, San Luis Obispo and Humboldt counties

However, San Joaquin County’s resolution does nothing to change genetic
engineering rules, as no prohibitions against the practice previously

“It’s a proactive approach to support this technology in the face of the
bans in other places,” Agricultural Commissioner Scott Hudson said.

San Joaquin officials believe that engineered foods can only help people,
not hurt them. Hudson said each crop has to get approval from three federal
departments — the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug
Administration and the Department of Agriculture.

“The scientists look for any possible harm,” Hudson said. “And then the
crops are field tested. The best minds in the country are working on this.”

Biotechnology alters the biology of plants to develop crops that are more
productive and resist inclement weather, harmful insects and diseases.

The three most common altered crops in the state are cotton, corn — although
most of it is used for livestock feed — and alfalfa. Nationwide, soybeans
are the most commonly engineered crop.

Supervisor Leroy Ornellas said local farmers can use the new technology to
meet their needs.

Officials also say biotechnology holds promise in developing medicines for
cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and AIDS.

“I don’t think there will be any (negative) repercussions,” he said.

The board’s vote leaves the choice of whether to use organic or
bioengineered crop varieties up to farmers. It was supported by the county
agricultural board, San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation and Hudson.

According to the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a September 2005
survey showed that 54 percent of registered California voters say farmers
should be allowed to grow biotech crops, and 31 percent say they should
The percentage jumps even higher in the Central Valley, where 68 percent
support biotech crops, and 24 percent oppose them.

Fresno, Kern and King counties also have adopted resolutions in support of
genetically engineered crops.
So have San Diego, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Tulare, Solano, Sutter and
Imperial counties.

“The benefits of (engineered crops) greatly outweigh the risks,” said Joe
Peterson, chairman of the committee that drew up the county’s version of
the resolution.

Tarbotton said Californians for GE-Free Agriculture opposes biotechnology
despite the absence of any sure danger.
“There haven’t been a lot of studies done,” she said. “It’s an inadequate
federal regulatory system.”

The group is worried that engineered seeds will be carried by wind or birds
into organic fields and mix with organic crops. If organic farmers can no
longer promise their crops are organic, they will lose clients, she said.
“These farmers have no way to protect themselves,” she said.

And because other countries, such as Japan, have passed bans against
engineered crops, selling to those countries will become difficult if crops
are cross-contaminated.

Tarbotton said California has a worldwide reputation as being a producer of
quality crops, “but that reputation will be harmed.”

The group also supports labeling all genetically engineered products at
stores, which is not done today. Supervisor Victor Mow said he would
support such a measure if he could vote on it.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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