Monsanto’s intimidation tactics no longer possible

A landmark piece of legislation protecting California’s farmers from liability was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger on Sept. 27, 2008. The bill, AB 541 (Huffman, D-Marin/Sonoma), was sponsored by a coalition of agriculture organizations and food businesses, and it is the first bill passed by the California legislature that brings much-needed regulation to genetically engineered (GE) crops.

AB 541 indemnifies California farmers who have not been able to prevent the inevitable – the drift of GE pollen or seed onto their land and the subsequent contamination of non-GE crops. Currently, farmers with crops that become contaminated by patented seeds or pollen have been the target of harassing lawsuits brought by biotech patent holders, most notoriously Monsanto. Further, if their contaminated crops cause harm to other farmers, the environment or consumers, they have not been protected from that liability. AB 541 provides protections for farmers from such liability. The bill also establishes a mandatory crop sampling protocol to level the playing field when biotech companies investigate alleged patent or contract violations.

AB 541 was sponsored by a thirteen-member coalition including Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Earthbound Farm, California Certified Organic Farmers, and United Natural Foods Inc. It also had the support of the California Farm Bureau Federation which has traditionally opposed any restrictions or regulations for GE crops.

“AB 541 provides much needed protection for farmers who typically lack the resources to fight lawsuits brought by biotech conglomerates,” stated Renata Brillinger, director of the Genetic Engineering Policy Project, the coalition sponsoring AB 541. “This is a good first step towards establishing that Monsanto — not farmers — is legally responsible for the economic, environmental and health harms caused by their patented and uncontrollable products.”

Contact: Renata Brillinger

For a copy of AB 541, please go to:

Many thanks to the co-sponsors of AB 541 for their funding, advocacy, strategic, legal, and moral support over the past two years it has taken to win this bill. Their commitment to this issue, and to protecting farmers and the integrity of California agriculture, is the reason we now have in place California’s first progressive GE law.

The Genetic Engineering Policy Project is a lobbying coalition of the following organizations and businesses:

California Certified Organic Farmers

California Church IMPACT

Center for Food Safety

Center for Environmental Health

Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Earthbound Farm

Ecological Farming Association

Environment California

Good Earth Natural Foods

Occidental Arts & Ecology Center

Oakland Institute

Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Co-op

Pesticide Action Network North America

United Natural Foods, Inc.



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 (the Genetic Engineering Policy Project) as well as the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The Issues

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.

Existing Law

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 Supporters

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

Earthbound Farm

Occidental Arts and Ecology Center

Natural Products Association West

Pesticide Action Network North America

United Natural Foods Inc.

— 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.

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