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REGULATION: U.S. States introduce numerous bills to regulategenetically modified foods

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  States introduce numerous bills to regulate genetically modified foods
SOURCE: Environmental Commons, USA
AUTHOR: Britt Bailey
DATE:   01.04.2007

States introduce numerous bills to regulate genetically modified foods

Following a two-year span during which the corporate farming sector
lobbied heavily in support of state bills aimed at keeping local
governments from regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs), 2007
state legislatures are now filled with bills confirming farmer and
consumer concerns about such foods and crops.

It has been a decade since multinational corporations began blanketing
the planet with their patented varieties of genetically modified seed.
With little government oversight, poll after poll has shown that
consumers would like to see greater supervision of genetic engineering
including all-out limitations on their cultivation.

From late 2004-2006, nearly twenty state legislatures attempted to
subdue the growing resistance to genetically modified organisms. In the
wake of four California counties and numerous New England towns passing
local measures restricting the growing of genetically engineered foods,
states began passing "preemption" laws removing the ability of local
governments to regulate seeds and plants.

Nearly every state hearing on the preemption bills erupted into an
emotional discourse on the specific impacts of growing GMOs and the toll
which this mode of farming exacts on the environment and public health.
Inadequate federal oversight, economic impacts, risks to organic
practices, lack of legal liability in the event of contamination, need
for public notification, potential health concerns, and harm to natural
resources were all listed as reasons why local communities should be
able to decide whether genetically modified foods should or should not
be grown. Thus far, Missouri is the only state that seems to be shoving
the concerns related to genetic engineering under the rug. Unlike prior
years, when state preemption bills had company, Missouri's SB364 is the
only bill in 2007 introduced to remove local authority over anything
related to farming.

Legislators seem to be responding to the wishes of the people. Already
in 2007, state capitols are filled with bills aimed at protecting small
family farming systems and consumers from the impacts of genetically
modified foods. Perhaps it is a combination of continued public outcry,
along with the rice contamination fiasco that occurred in August 2006
(when an unapproved genetically engineered rice variety caused billions
of dollars of damage to farmers throughout the United States), that is
giving legislators enough backbone to defy the wishes of the
multinational corporate agriculture industry.

Under current US law, the makers of the genetically modified crops bear
no responsibility for damages caused when the crops spread through
environmental or human action. Now, four states are carrying bills
making the agricultural biotechnology industry liable in the event
another contamination occurs. Three states are hearing bills calling for
a moratorium on food crops genetically engineered to produce
pharmaceuticals. Illinois and Tennessee are calling for labeling of
foods derived from genetically engineered crops. Five states,
California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, and South Dakota, are calling
for notification systems in which genetically modified foods become a
part of the public record.

After ten years of national public debate over the effects of
commercializing genetically modified organisms, we seem to be turning a
regulatory corner. Perhaps State legislators have recognized that
federal regulations are inadequate to protect their state farming
interests. Perhaps they have recognized that the regulatory offices of
Monsanto and Dow are simply too close to the offices of the USDA, FDA,
and Congress. As states continue to introduce bills protecting against
the impacts arising from growing genetically modified organisms, will
the federal government act next to preempt the states?

All of this begs the question, where is the oversight of farming and
agriculture best deliberated - at the local, state, or national level?
Given the federal government's track record on the issue, we may want
keep it local and allow communities and farmers to decide how best to
regulate their soils and foods.

To stay up to date on GMO bills introduced in states across the United
States, see Environmental Commons' "Food Democracy Tracker,"

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