GENET archive


REGULATION: Maine (USA) bill to protect organic farmers reaches toofar

                                 PART I
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Bill to protect organic farmers reaches too far
SOURCE: Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram, USA
AUTHOR: Editorial
DATE:   27.04.2007

Bill to protect organic farmers reaches too far

Organic farmers have a need, and a right, to protect the integrity of
their crops, which must adhere to standards to be certified as "organic."

It is also important that Maine assist organic farmers in a reasonable
fashion. Organic farming is not a major part of the state's economy, but
it does represent an economic niche in a state that depends on piecing
many niches together to create a solid economic foundation.

A bill aimed at the manufacturers of genetically modified seed, however,
is a measure that steps beyond reasonable bounds. Part of the bill,
sponsored by Rep. James Schatz, D-Blue Hill, would hold seed makers
financially liable if cross-pollination occurs between genetically
modified crops and organic crops growing in nearby, or not so nearby, fields.

The danger of that cross-pollination to organic farmers is that they
could lose their certification, and thus that crop, if testing reveals
cross-pollination with genetically modified plants has occurred.

The risk for seed makers is that an organic farmer could sue them for
the cost of replanting and the loss in profit because of any
contaminated crop.

Some supporters of the bill have argued that seed makers, who are
typically large, deep-pocketed corporations such as Monsanto, can better
afford to pay for losses if cross-pollination occurs.

It's important to note that cross-pollination can happen for reasons
under no one's control -- seeds blown by wind or dropped off a truck,
for instance -- or by misuse in planting methods or failure to follow
protocols in using the seed. Just because a business can afford a loss,
however, doesn't make it fair to hold it liable.

In many areas, organic farms and those using modified seeds exist side
by side, with allowances for a buffer zone. Buffer zones, however, don't
always provide adequate protection.

Perhaps some long-range planning can hash out a strategy to create
organic growing zones in Maine -- zones that would provide ample
buffering distance from crops grown with modified seed -- thus helping
to eliminate the proximity that creates problems.

Modified seed has proved to be a valuable tool for farmers. The
possibility of crop damage and liability issues hanging over seed
makers' heads could be a disincentive for them to sell their products in
Maine. Or, seed makers might elect to charge a premium for their product
in this state -- which would unfairly penalize farmers who now depend on
such use.

-------------------- archived at --------------------

                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Bill would create new hurdles for Maine farmers
SOURCE: Bangor Daily News, USA
AUTHOR: Viewpoint by Vernon L. Delongis
DATE:   05.05.2007

Bill would create new hurdles for Maine farmers

Vernon L. Delongis executive director of the Agricultural Bargaining Council.

Farming is a tough way to make a living. Energy costs. Competitive
markets. Fickle weather. Any one of them can go against you and turn a
profitable farm into a money loser. Between 1997 and 2002, Maine lost
191 farms. Now, a bill before the Legislature would make it even harder
for some Maine farmers to survive, if it passes.

LD 1650 would create a special set of laws that apply only to crops that
are improved using modern biotechnology. Supporters of the law say it is
necessary to protect organic growers and conventional farmers from
damages caused by biotech crops. The trouble is no Maine farmers have
reported any damage from biotech crops. The law also would offer
protections to farmers who get sued by the manufacturers of biotech
crops. No Maine farmers have been sued either. Clearly, LD 1650 is a
solution in search of a problem.

What the law would do, however, is make it more difficult, if not
impossible, to buy biotech-enhanced seeds to plant in Maine. By shifting
liability for damages to the manufacturer, whether they are at fault or
not (a legal doctrine called strict liability), and by forcibly
rewriting the contracts covering the planting of patented seeds,
manufacturers would likely choose not to sell their seeds in Maine. This
would deny Maine farmers access to the hottest new farming technology
since the invention of the tractor. Every year for the past 10 years,
biotech crop plantings have enjoyed double-digit growth around the world.

Though biotech-enhanced crops are not as big in Maine as they are in
other parts of the country, some farmers do plant them. Dairy farmers
plant herbicide-tolerant corn because it simplifies weed control and
increases yields. For the past two years, several potato farmers have
planted herbicide-tolerant canola as a rotation crop for the same
reasons. The results so far are mixed, but that's no reason to say
biotech-enhanced crops are wrong for Maine.

One of the bright spots on the horizon for Maine farmers is the
increasing demand for renewable energy. So far most of the action has
been in the Midwest with corn-to-ethanol production. Down the road,
though, experts are predicting that biodiesel will overtake ethanol. A
University of Maine Cooperative Extension feasibility study found that
northern Maine could support a 5-million-gallon biodiesel plant. Efforts
are under way to find investors for the plant. Though Maine farmers at
present do not grow enough canola and soybeans to supply such a plant,
the study said the demand created by the plant "could be a boon to Maine

Maine, with its abundant and productive farmland, could become a major
producer of sustainable biofuels. However, for Maine farmers to be
competitive in this market they will need access to the latest
technology. Researchers already are looking at ways to increase the oil
content of canola and soybeans to make them more efficient as biofuel
sources. Once these biotech-enhanced biofuel crops hit the market,
farmers planting them will enjoy a competitive advantage. If Maine
farmers can't plant them, the biofuel refinery envisioned for northern
Maine will buy their feedstock elsewhere, and Maine farmers will lose
out on this opportunity.

Over the years, Maine farmers have worked with their neighbors to insure
compatible planting strategies. As markets have become more diverse, so
have farms. There are now more organic and small farms in Maine, many of
them pursuing niche markets. This has increased the importance and
complexity of neighboring farmers working together, but so far it is
working. To promote cooperation between farmers, the Maine Department of
Agriculture has adopted a formal coexistence policy.

The object of the policy is to insure that farmers planting biotech-
enhanced crops work with their neighbors to minimize problems. Now is
not the time to scrap a coexistence policy that is working to gamble on
a rewrite of Maine's laws that would put more Maine farms at risk.

-------------------- archived at --------------------


the news & information service of the
European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)

phone....... +49-531-5168746
fax......... +49-531-5168747
email....... hartmut.meyer(*)
skype....... hartmut_meyer