GMO-FREE REGIONS & PRODUCTS: On the Massachusetts (USA) campaign onlocal GE crop bans
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------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE: Towns consider special seed ban
SOURCE: Berkshire Eagle, USA
AUTHOR: Scott Stafford
Towns consider special seed ban
Savoy, Becket and Great Barrington will vote on banning genetically
engineered seeds for farmers.
Voters at three town meetings in Berkshire County will be considering
resolutions seeking an end to the use of genetically engineered seeds on
The resolutions in Becket, Great Barrington and Savoy all call for
legislation in state and federal government that would institute a
moratorium on the use of the seed and clear labels that identify both
genetically engineered seeds and the food produced by it, and for
protection of farmers from lawsuits by companies that own patents to the
Three other Berkshire County towns -- Windsor, Sandisfield and
Williamstown -- have passed similar resolutions in the past four years. A
total of 21 Massachusetts towns have passed the resolution, and another
nine are considering it this year.
In Vermont, 85 towns passed similar resolutions, and the legislative
effort that resulted was vetoed by Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas in 2006.
Savoy Selectmen Chairman Joseph Bettis said he believes that the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration allows the use of the seed without proper
"When it's in the food, people don't know it, they don't know what
they're eating," he said. "There haven't been proper safety tests on it."
He also said that there is a danger of lawsuits from corporations such
as Monsanto if windblown pollen from a genetically engineered crop
pollinates with a neighboring crop. Because Monsanto owns the genetic
patents, it can sue for patent infringement at any farm where that
genetic sequence is found.
Tami Craig-Schilling, a spokeswoman with St. Louis-based Monsanto, said
the company had little to say on the topic.
"Small towns and local governments have every right to the democratic
process; however, these are resolutions of a nonbinding fashion," she
said. "In areas where farmers have spoken out, they prefer the
opportunity of choice of technology for now and in the future."
According to Ben Grosscup, coordinator with the Northeast Organic
Farming Association, a 2005 report from the Center for Food Safety shows
that Monsanto has filed more than 90 lawsuits against U.S. farmers and
has been awarded judgments exceeding $15 million.
One product Monsanto has marketed is a variety of seed genetically
engineered to survive its Round-Up brand of herbicide, meaning a farmer
can use the herbicide on a field to kill all vegetation but leave the
crop essentially untouched.
There are other seed varieties engineered to become sterile after one
life cycle, requiring purchase of new seed every year, noted Bettis.
But when accidental cross-pollination occurs, these properties could be
spread to other farms, where many use seeds from the previous year's
crop in the hope of cutting costs.
"I think the odds of this (resolution) passing are pretty good," Bettis
said. "We're not a big agricultural town, but we do want to show our concern."
"We're great believers in trying to bring this issue under control,"
said Becket Selectman Douglas Walter. "I come from an agricultural
family, and I think this is a genie, it's out of the bottle, but we're
not even sure what we're wishing for here."
He said there are no real assurances what the effects might be on the
agricultural industry or on the people who eat the food resulting from it.
"What these companies did was to biologically engineer this organism and
set it loose right out there in a field," he said. "It's too late to
stop it now, it's already infested other crops. So we're trying to start
at the town level and work it through to Boston before the (corporate)
lobbyists get there."
"We're doing this for the health and well-being of the whole planet,
including the human beings who live here," said Mary Beth Merrit, a
Great Barrington voter who petitioned to put the resolution on the town
warrant. "Genetic engineering can lead to an agricultural monoculture,
which would negatively impact food security. We're just trying to
educate people, including our legislators at the state and federal level."
Paul Tawczynski, co-owner of the 200-acre Taft Farm in Great Barrington,
said he "wholeheartedly" supports passage of the resolution.
He said that, although genetically increasing the yield of farms in
regions facing serious food shortages might be a worthy goal,
genetically engineering crops to survive an herbicide or be resistant to
a certain pest can lead to other problems.
"Anytime (you) genetically engineer a crop to be resistant to something,
you're opening a big can of worms," Tawczynski said. "And to come up
with something that's resistant to Round-Up, which kills anything it
touches, well, that's like playing God."
He noted that he has little fear of cross-pollination from genetically
engineered crops because there are so few farms nearby.
"There are no other farms in the area of the scale that would be
interested in using it," he said, adding that genetically engineered
seed costs 15 to 20 times more than regular seed.
The Savoy town meeting is Wednesday; the Becket town meeting is
Saturday, May 12; and the Great Barrington town meeting is Monday, May 14.
-------------------- archived at http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE: Nine Massachusetts towns vote against genetic engineering
SOURCE: Northeast Organic Farming Association, Massachusetts Chapter, USA
AUTHOR: Press Release
Town to Town Campaign on Genetic Engineering
read more at:
Nine Massachusetts towns vote against genetic engineering
Since May 1, nine towns in Western Massachusetts have passed resolutions
at their annual Town Meetings opposing genetic engineering of food and
agricultural crops. These resolutions represent the latest wave of a
region-wide effort that has been underway since 2002.
"The success of these resolutions at town meetings this year reflects a
deepening opposition to genetic engineering in Massachusetts and across
New England," said Ben Grosscup, a field organizer for the Northeast
Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts and a leader in petitioning
for the resolution in Amherst
In the largest such effort to date in Massachusetts, 9 new towns have
put articles on their town meeting warrants calling for major policy
changes for the biotechnology industry. Each town placed slightly
different wording on its warrant, but all called for three key policy
changes: 1) mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered foods; 2)
liability protection to strengthen farmers' legal rights when dealing
with biotechnology corporations; and 3) a moratorium on further growing
of GE crops until independent scientific evidence proves them to be
safe, and they can be demonstrated not to harmfully affect family farms.
So far this year, all nine towns in Massachusetts that debated these
resolutions voted to support at least some of the appeals, and five of
these voted to support all three. The towns include Charlemont,
Shutesbury, Bernardston, Amherst, Granby, Ware, Sandisfield,
Williamstown, and New Salem.
Since 2000, 111 towns and cities in New England have passed resolutions
that put themselves on record questioning genetic engineering of food
and crops. With the votes of the nine new towns from 2006, Massachusetts
now has 21 towns, and one city, Boston, that have passed such
resolutions. In Vermont, where these efforts first took off on a wide
scale, 85 towns and cities have passed measures on the issue, along with
2 towns in Maine and 2 in New Hampshire. Earlier this year, residents of
Montville, Maine voted to amend their town plan to prohibit growing of
GE crops. This may be the first such resolution to carry the force of
law in any New England town.
Accompanied by a spirited debate that lasted for over 40 minutes, on
June 13, the New Salem Town Meeting approved all three articles that
pertained to genetic engineering: a request for labeling GE food by
28-4, a call for farmer liability protection by 33-9, and a moratorium
by 18-12. One New Salem citizen, Joseph Cuneo answered comments that
genetic engineering has been going on for thousands of years, by
pointing out that the GE crops that have been on the market on a wide
scale since 1996 are produced in dramatically new, and untested ways.
Another citizen said that the farmer liability protection measure was a
key step toward establishing legal rights for farmers that have been
sued by Monsanto for patent infringement and suffered economic damages
due to crop contamination. Jennifer Cuneo commented on the significance
of town meeting taking up the issue of genetic engineering: "It's a
louder voice when towns vote on these issues than when each individual
calls up their representative. It's got to start here at town meeting,
because that's what democracy is all about."
On Monday May 8, Amherst Town meeting debated the 3 articles on its
warrant for over an hour and a quarter. The labeling resolution passed
by voice vote. The liability legislation resolution passed by 115-60,
and the moratorium resolution passed by 82-77.
The Amherst Town Meeting, whose participants, or "members," are elected
by town residents, includes several scientists, some of whom spoke
against the resolutions, but others spoke in favor. Members pointed out
that genetic engineering is dramatically different than various from of
plant breeding and hybridization that have gone on for thousands of
years, because never before have genes been so separated from their own
evolutionary contexts, implanted into crops from entirely different
kingdoms, and patented for commercial profit. Many town meeting members
were pleased to have the chance to voice their opinions in the
intelligent debate that took place.
In the town of Ware, over 100 people attended their Town meeting. The
farmer liability resolution, passed quickly by 55-44. Then, the petition
sponsor, Heidi Bara, spoke in favor of the call for a moratorium on
genetic engineering. An organic farmer in Ware, Matthew Biskup, also
spoke in favor of the moratorium, citing concerns that his corn crop is
in danger of contamination. That measure, however, was defeated by voice
vote. When the labeling resolution came up, one woman said "I want to
know what I'm eating," and it passed by a voice vote.
Starting at the very beginning of their town meeting, citizens of Granby
debated the 3 articles on genetic engineering. With nearly 200 people in
attendance, each resolution passed without tallying. Although
petitioners have generally anticipated the greatest controversy from
their calls for a moratorium on GE crops, they insist that a moratorium
is necessary to fully address the threats posed by genetic engineering
in agriculture. Organic Farmer, Ryan Voiland, who sponsored the articles
said, "I'm glad that Granby is supportive of a more responsible approach
to agriculture and that they have showed their support for a moratorium
on genetic engineering until further study is done. I wasn't sure how
people would feel, and I was pleasantly surprised that people were so in
favor of them." At the same meeting, Voiland brought forth a measure to
form an agricultural commission in Granby, which also passed.
On May 6, Organic gardener, Linda Avis Scott and her husband, Michael
Baines, presented an anti-GE resolution to the Shutesbury town meeting,
which voted unanimously to support. Along with other local activists,
Scott had been educating the community about the threat of genetic
engineering. "The resolution we put on the warrant in Shutesbury really
taps into my fundamental belief of what town meeting is about -- the
true democracy that allows us to express ourselves freely and to be
heard," Scott said. The same day Bernardston passed a measure for
mandatory labeling of GE foods and seeds and it referred two other
measures on farmer liability and a moratorium to the newly founded
agricultural commission for further discussion.
On May 1, the Charlemont Town Meeting, which went until 11:30pm, passed
a resolution to "encourage a local moratorium on the growing of
Genetically Engineered crops until there is adequate scientific evidence
that these products are not harmful to us or our environment," and
calling on legislators to enact mandatory labeling and farmer liability
Organic Farmer, John Hoffman, who sponsored the Charlemont article said
"neither I nor many others at town meeting are late night people."
Nonetheless, more than half of the 80 or so who attended stayed until
the very end when the article came up. Although the vote was not
unanimous, a vast majority voted in favor. "Many told me after the
meeting that they appreciated having the opportunity to vote on the
resolution and to support it," Hoffman said. Hoffman, intends to
continue discussion on this issue in the agricultural commission that
has just formed in Charlemont. Charlemont's choice to "encourage a local
moratorium," although it lacks binding legal authority, is viewed as a
statement of moral authority by the town.
These kinds of resolutions have exerted significant influence on state
policy. In 2004, Vermont passed a first-in-the-nation law requiring
clearer labeling of all genetically engineered seeds sold in the state.
Then, in May 2006, the Vermont House and Senate passed landmark
legislation permitting farmers to sue GE crop developers under private
nuisance law in cases where damages over $3500 can be demonstrated. The
bill passed the Vermont House in April by 77-63 and passed the Senate a
week later by 19-8. The multi-year town meeting effort that resulted in
85 towns passing resolutions against genetic engineering significantly
heightened the debate in Vermont. On May 15, however, Governor Jim
Douglas vetoed the bill, disappointing many farmers and sustainable
The liability issue has gained traction due to the practices of
Monsanto, which is the largest developer of GE crop varieties. Monsanto
patents novel gene sequences in their GE crops, which are able to affect
non-GE crops through wind pollination and seed spillage from trucks.
Organic farmer John Hoffman, said, "This issue affects me directly
because of the possible contamination of my corn crop. We know that with
wind pollinated crops like corn, GE pollen will cross with non-GE
varieties. For me, that means that my organically grown crop is no
The corporate patent rights that come with these novel gene sequences
pose liability threats that leave many farmers concerned. The St. Louis
Post-Dispatch reported in 2003 that Monsanto has an annual budget of $10
million and a staff of 75 devoted to investigating and prosecuting
farmers for patent infringement.
So far, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits against U.S. farmers, according
to a 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety, and has been awarded
judgments totaling over $15 million. Many farmers settle with the
company out-of-court, accepting mandated gag orders and leaving scant
information about their cases. Gloria Meluleni, an organic farmer who
runs Coyote Hill Farm and brought forth resolutions on GE to the
Bernardston Town Meeting said, "It is so unjust and ridiculous that
Monsanto can sue people when its GE pollen crosses over to someone
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