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[genet-news] POLICY & REGULATION: Maine (USA) struggles about tougher GE crop laws

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Bangor Daily News, USA

AUTHOR: By Sharon Kiley Mack


DATE:   18.04.2009

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AUGUSTA, Maine ? Legislators on the Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation Committee learned Friday that 12 years after they first began hearing bills on genetically engineered crops, it wasn?t any easier.

Testimony on five genetically engineered crop bills revealed a high level of passion and fear.

?This isn?t about science,? Rep. Benjamin Marriner Pratt, D-Bangor, who sponsored three of the five bills presented Friday, told his colleagues. ?These issues go beyond biology. They go beyond science and the scientific method. To pretend otherwise is to do a disservice to the people of Maine.?

Many people do not believe there is a difference between genetically engineered crops and conventional crops; others think the technology is too new and has not been tested sufficiently.

Crops are genetically engineered when the DNA of one gene from one crop is inserted into the DNA of a gene of a separate crop. Most of the current genetically engineered crops are created to contain their own pesticides and herbicides. Some crops, however, are being grown to contain medicines and pharmaceuticals.

Scientists have consistently said that this technology will allow for less pesticide use and greater crop yields, as well as a renewable source for medicines such as insulin.

Others, however, have an attitude similar to Chris Miller of Gray.

?I do not believe in the rules protecting us,? Miller testified Friday. ?Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. This is the ultimate science-fiction story.?

Maine is far from alone in this debate. Across the country, 48 bills about genetically engineered crops are now being heard by state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Currently only genetically engineered corn, canola and soybeans are being grown in Maine.

In the past, the organic community has been solidly behind every bill proposed that would control, regulate or prohibit genetically engineered crops. But even they were divided Friday.

Four organic dairy farmers said regulations that pit conventional growers against organic growers are unnecessary.

?I have nothing against my conventional neighbors,? Franklin County organic dairy farmer Martin Lane said. ?We are all just trying to feed the country.?

Only one bill seemed to be unilaterally supported.

LD 557 directs the University of Maine to study a potato developed by a Chelsea backyard gardener that appears to be toxic to the Colorado Potato Beetle.

The beetle can decimate potato crops, tomatoes and eggplants. Proponents said that if the potato study shows it can replace pesticides, it could save $200 an acre for potato farmers.

The committee unanimously passed LD 557.

No date has been set for work sessions on the remaining four bills, which are:

LD 708: This bill would enact a 10-year moratorium on the open-air production of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops. Pratt said the bill was aimed at protecting Maine?s food supply. ?Our goal is to make sure pharmaceutical drugs do not make it into our food stream.? Jon Olson of the Maine Farm Bureau opposed the bill, testifying that any bill that limits Maine farmers? ability to compete with the rest of the country should not be passed.

LD 804: This bill would refine the state?s existing genetic engineering regulations and includes references to the state?s best management practices for genetically engineered crops that have not yet been finalized. It also provides a framework for inspections, requires buffer zones between organic and conventional crops and spells out a violation process that kicks in when an organic farmer?s crops become contaminated by neighboring genetically engineered crops.

?The onus falls on the organic farmer, which flies in the face of what I learned in kindergarten about cleaning up your own mess,? Rep. Peter Kent said. Logan Perkins, representing the Maine Organic Farming and Gardeners Association testified that ?unless you include every backyard gardener, you will accomplish nothing with this bill.? The Maine Department of Agriculture also opposed it, saying it would have to hire three seasonal 26-week inspectors to fulfill the bill?s requirements.

LD 965: This bill would establish an annual reporting system for genetically engineered crops. The measure, which supporters said would provide information vital to state policy decisions and allow the state to track growing trends, may not be necessary since the National Agriculture Statistics Service has said it will begin surveying and collecting data in 2008 on GE growers.

LD 1202: This bill would set out a process for investigating any farmer accused of intellectual property theft of genetically engineered material. The largest developer and seller of patented genetically engineered seed, Monsanto, has filed more than 112 lawsuits against farmers in 29 states, Perkins testified. Basically, she explained, the bill would protect Maine farmers from unreasonable search and seizure, and provide third-party verification to all test results.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: Sun Journal, USA

AUTHOR: Rebekah Metzler


DATE:   18.04.2009

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AUGUSTA - Genetically engineered crops will either save us or be the end of us, depending on whom you believe.

Supporters and opponents testified Friday before the Legislature?s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee?s hearing on several bills dealing with the practice.

The proposals, each sponsored by Rep. Benjamin Pratt, D-Eddington, included:

- Requiring annual reporting of the total acreage of genetically engineered crops grown in Maine;

- Banning the open-air production of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops;

- Establishing liability in the case of cross-pollination of a genetically engineered crop with another crop.

Proponents of the bills said genetically engineered crops - those that have been given specific traits through scientific intervention - have not been adequately tested for their effects on humans and the environment, and the state should move cautiously when it comes to allowing their production.

?It?s something that worries me in terms of the food supply and to me, there?s no more important homeland security concern than our food supply,? Pratt said.

In his testimony on behalf of his bill to ban the open-air production of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops in Maine, he used the example of safflower plants, which have been altered so they produce insulin, a drug used to help diabetes patients.

?That?s a good thing, which I support as long as it?s done in a greenhouse and in a controlled, contained environment,? Pratt said. To his knowledge, no one in Maine is farming such crops in an open-air field.

Others said they supported the ban on such crops because human error and the process by which crops naturally reproduce ensure cross-pollination would occur.

?It?s too great a risk to our food supply,? said Bob St. Peter of Sedgwick, executive director of Food for Maine?s Future.

Logan Perkins of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association said the economic ramifications of an accidental cross-pollination of a pharmaceutical crop would also hurt Maine farmers, in addition to health concerns.

?Maine is uniquely positioned to see a great resurgence of our agricultural industries,? she said. ?All of this could be jeopardized by a single contamination event. Let us act prudently now to protect the Maine brand and the value of its appeal in the marketplace, so that Maine farmers can thrive for generations to come.?

The committee will schedule work sessions on the bills in the coming weeks.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, USA

AUTHOR: BEth Quimby


DATE:   16.04.2009

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WHEN: 9:30 a.m. Friday.

WHERE: Hearing before Agricultural, Conservation and Forestry Committee, Cross State Office Building, Room 206, Augusta.

LD 708: Would restrict production of genetically engineered pharmaceutical crops to indoor laboratory and research settings to prevent release of genetically engineered material.

LD 965: Would require manufacturers of genetically engineered plants and seeds to report the total potential acreage that could be planted based on sales.

LD 1202: Would establish rights for farmers being investigated for intellectual property theft of genetically engineered material patented by seed manufacturers and dealers.

LD 804: Would make organic farmers, not conventional farmers, responsible for creating sufficient buffer zones to prevent cross-pollination with genetically altered crops



Only two states have more bills in their legislatures this year dealing with genetically altered crops.

Nobody knows just how many acres of genetically altered crops are grown every year in Maine.

A bill being proposed by Rep. Benjamin Pratt, D-Eddington, would change that.

?We need to know what we are dealing with,? Pratt said.

Pratt is sponsoring three of four bills aimed at regulating genetically modified crops. They are scheduled for a series of public hearings Friday before the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

The hearings are expected to draw crowds from both sides of what has become a perennial hot-button issue in Maine, pitting organic farmers and people worried about the safety of genetically engineered crops against the biotechnology industry and conventional farmers, who say such crops are perfectly safe and allow Maine farms to be competitive.

?We have been growing genetically engineered crops for 10 years without any complaints,? said Robert Tardy, a Maine lobbyist who represents the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C.

Advocates of regulating genetically engineered crops say the bills serve as precautionary measures.

?Let?s take some time to look at this closely,? said Bob St. Peter, executive director of the Food for Maine?s Future.

Maine is a hotbed of legislation involving genetically modified crops. Only Hawaii, with 13 proposed bills, and New York, with 10, have more.

There are 48 bills about genetically engineered crops in state legislatures nationwide this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Last year, the Waldo County town of Montville became the first community in the nation to pass an ordinance banning the cultivation of genetically engineered crops.

These crops were first introduced in Maine about a decade ago, but moves to restrict them have been around since the early 1990s. Farmers in Maine are growing genetically engineered corn, canola and soybeans.

The state?s Pesticide Board regulates the use of all crops genetically altered for pesticide and herbicide purposes. Crops altered for other purposes must be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

John Jemison, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service specialist who has done research on the impact of genetically altered crops in Maine, said there are pros and cons.

He has found that there have been low levels of cross-pollination between genetically engineered and conventional crops. He has found production benefits in canola genetically altered for weed control. The jury is still out on benefits of corn altered to resist insect pests, Jemison said.

Both sides in the debate are deeply entrenched in their positions. Proponents of genetically altered crops accuse opponents of being fuzzy on science, unwilling to compromise and not representative of the state?s farming community, which would be at a competitive disadvantage without genetically altered crops.

?For some reason, a small number of people in Maine have chosen this as the place in the world to plant their flag and stop genetic engineering,? said Doug Johnson, executive director of the Maine Biotechnology Information Bureau.

Opponents say they are protecting Maine farmers from big corporations and ensuring the safety of locally grown food.

?It is an issue that hits home with a lot of people who are concerned about our food and what we are eating,? said Logan Perkins, a lobbyist for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

Some farmers say that the whole issue is being overblown and that Maine organic and conventional farmers can peacefully coexist without new laws.

Bill Spiller, president of the York County Farm Bureau and owner of Spiller Farm in Wells, said he sometimes uses genetically grown crops to control weeds in his corn, but he also uses organic growing methods. So far, Spiller has had no problems with his organic farming neighbors.

?We get along pretty well,? he said.



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