- SUPPORT AB 541 -
AB 541 would establish California’s only state law related to genetic engineering (GE) in agriculture. It protects California farmers from frivolous lawsuits and harassing investigations commonly used by some biotechnology corporations.
AB 541 represents a compromise solution to the controversial GE issue. Assemblymember Huffman introduced a much more comprehensive bill in 2007 that was held over in the Assembly Agriculture Committee. Since then, stakeholders have been working very hard to arrive at a compromise on the bill. AB 541 as currently amended represents the fruit of those negotiations. It has the support of the bill’s thirteen co-sponsors as well as the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Seed Association, and the Western Plant Health Association.
GE and non-GE plants can cross-pollinate and crops can be mixed together during harvest, handling and processing. It is widely known that it is virtually impossible in every case to prevent contamination of non-GE crops by patented GE plants or seeds.
In spite of the uncontrollability of genetic contamination, farmers contaminated by GE crops can be and have been sued by GE manufacturers for patent infringement.
The State of California has no state laws or regulations governing GE crop production. In 2000, the legislature created a California Biotechnology Task Force. It disbanded without making any recommendations for state oversight. Four California counties have enacted local restrictions on GE crops, and a state pre-emption bill (SB 1056) to override these local laws failed in 2006. In spite of their pervasiveness in food and agriculture, the federal government has no mandatory human or environmental safety testing requirements for GE crops or food.
AB 541 protects California farmers in these ways:
- Protects farmers unknowingly contaminated by GE crops from patent infringement lawsuits by biotechnology corporations.
- Establishes a mandatory crop sampling protocol to be used by patent holders when investigating farmers they believe may have violated patents or seed contracts. This protocol would require the farmer’s written permission for sampling, and provide for the option of the presence of a designee of the Secretary of Agriculture to accompany the patent holder during the sampling and collect duplicate samples for independent verification if requested by either party.
AB 541 levels the playing field for farmers accused by Monsanto and others of contract violations, and discourages their practice of sampling crops without explicit permission from farmers and then prosecuting based on unverifiable testing results.
A full copy of the bill as currently amended can be downloaded here.
California Certified Organic Farmers
California Farm Bureau Federation
California Council of Churches IMPACT
California Farmers Union
California Seed Association
Center for Food Safety
Center for Environmental Health
Community Alliance with Family Farmers
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center
Natural Products Association West
Pesticide Action Network North America
United Natural Foods Inc.
Western Plant Health Association
— and many others
THE ORIGINAL BILL
The original AB 541 introduced in February 2007 included several other elements that have been removed in order to reach the agreement with opponents. It would have established of the country’s first system of notification for the locations of GE crops; confined experimental pharmaceutical-producing crops to greenhouses to protect the food system from contamination; and, clarified that the GE crop manufacturer, and not farmers, is liable in the event of contamination. Assemblymember Huffman and the bill’s sponsors remain concerned about these issues and committed to pursuing more protections in the future.
SIGN ON IN SUPPORT
Please send a letter of support today before the bill is heard in the Senate this spring (date to be determined).
Please put your letter on organizational letterhead, customize as you wish, and send hard copies, faxes, or emails with electronic signatures to the lead lobbyist on AB 541:
Re: AB 541 support
1029 K St., Suite 24
Sacramento, CA 95814
SAMPLE LETTER OF SUPPORT
RE: AB 541 (Huffman) - SUPPORT
Dear Honorable Member:
I am writing to urge your support for AB 541, which establishes some basic and fundamental rights for farmers whose crops may be contaminated by genetically engineered varieties.
Assemblymember Huffman introduced a much more comprehensive bill early in 2007 that was held over in the Assembly Agriculture Committee with commitments on all sides to seek common ground on the issues. Since then, stakeholders have been working very hard to arrive at a compromise on the bill. AB 541 as currently amended represents the fruit of that compromise. It was supported in the recent Agriculture Committee hearing by our organizations as well as the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Seed Association, and the Western Plant Health Association.
AB 541 will enact protections for California farmers against frivolous lawsuits that intimidate and harass those who have not been able to prevent the inevitable – the drift of genetically engineered pollen or seed. It will ensure that there is a more level playing field for farmers accused by agricultural biotechnology companies and other patent holders of contract violations, and discourage the practice of biotech companies sampling crops without explicit permission from farmers and prosecuting based on unverifiable testing results.
Specifically, the two provisions of AB 541 as currently amended are as follows:
- Protection from patent infringement lawsuits for farmers unknowingly contaminated by GE crops.
- The establishment of a mandatory crop sampling protocol to be used by patent holders when investigating farmers they believe may have violated patents or seed contracts. This protocol would require the farmer’s written permission for sampling, and provide for the option of the presence of a designee of the Secretary of Agriculture to accompany the patent holder during the sampling and collect duplicate samples for independent verification if requested by either party.
Given the fact that GE crops continue to be developed for dozens of California specialty crops, it is prudent that California lawmakers get out in front of potential problems to assure that our farmers have their rights protected.
Please vote Yes on AB 541. It represents an important first step on establishing statewide legislation regarding genetically engineered crops. Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.
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