May 29th, 2007 - FEDERAL PRE-EMPTION OF GENETIC ENGINEERING

May 5, 2007 - Judge Declares GE Alfalfa Illegal

April 26, 2007 - Genetic Engineering Bill Held Over in Assembly Agriculture Committee

April 2007 - Washington Legislature Opens Door for GE-Free Zones for Brassicas

April 2007 - Assemblymember Huffman’s Genetic Engineering Bill Passes Out of Assembly Judiciary Committee

March 15, 2007 - The Sacramento Bee - Rice Board Spurns Biotech: State commission worries test plants would cut sales overseas

March 11, 2007 - The Washington Post - Rice Industry Troubled by Genetic Contamination

February 20, 2007 - The Sacramento Bee - Valley Rice Farmers Take a Hard Line: Group wants ban on all bioengineered plantings

February 14, 2007 - The New York Times - Agriculture Department Violated Law, Judge Rules

February 14, 2007 - Press Release - Genetic Engineering under Fire from New Group of California Food and Business Leaders

November 6, 2006 - The Washington Post - Biotech Rice Saga Yields Bushel of Questions for Feds

August 19, 2006 - The Washington Post - U.S. Rice Supply Contaminated: Genetically altered variety is found in long-grain rice

FEDERAL PRE-EMPTION OF GENETIC ENGINEERING

Update from the Genetic Engineering Policy Alliance – May 29th, 2007

Members of Congress are currently considering the inclusion of federal Farm Bill language that would pre-empt state and local restrictions on genetic engineering and other agricultural regulations.

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry last week included a provision in the draft Farm Bill that reads “…no State or locality shall make any law prohibiting the use in commerce of an article that the Secretary of Agriculture has (1) inspected and passed; or (2) determined to be of non-regulated status.”

This sweeping language would override California’s AB 541 if it passes (currently it is tabled in the Assembly Agriculture Committee until January 2008). It would also override several GE laws across the country, including the four county bans in California, a recent Washington law providing for the establishment of GE-free brassica production zones, and an Alaskan law requiring labeling of GE salmon. It could limit the ability of the rice industry in California and Arkansas to regulate rice varieties. GE-related regulations in more than a dozen states may be overruled by this language. It could also stop states from prohibiting the sale of USDA-inspected e.coli-tainted ground beef, as well as a variety of animal welfare state laws.

This language will next be considered in the full Agriculture Committee the week of June 20th. The Farm Bill will likely not be debated on the floor of the House, and the recommendations of the committee will likely prevail. The time to stop this pre-emption language is during the next three weeks at the committee level.

The following three members of the House Agriculture Committee can be contacted to voice your opposition to the pre-emption language. They will be most receptive to their own constituents and to representatives of agriculture, the food industry and business:

Dennis A. Cardoza, CA (18th District – Stockton, Merced, Modesto)
Joe Baca, CA (43rd District – Ontario, Rialto, Fontana)
Jim Costa, CA (20th District – San Joaquin Valley)

The Genetic Engineering Policy Alliance will continue to track this issue and inform you of developments.

Judge Declares GE Alfalfa Illegal – First-Ever Halting of a Commercialized GE Crop

Excerpted from press release May 5, 2007

A Federal judge on May 4 made a final ruling that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) 2005 approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) “Roundup Ready” alfalfa was illegal. The Judge called on USDA to ban any further planting of the GE seed until it conducts a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the GE crop. The Judge also ordered USDA to make the location of these plots “publicly available as soon as practicable” so that growers of organic and conventional alfalfa “can test their own crops to determine if there has been contamination.”

The decision is consistent with Judge Breyer’s ruling of February 13th, in which the judge found that the USDA failed to address concerns that Roundup Ready alfalfa will contaminate conventional and organic alfalfa. In calling for a permanent injunction, Judge Breyer noted that contamination of natural and organic alfalfa by the GE variety has already occurred, and noted that “Such contamination is irreparable environmental harm. The contamination cannot be undone.”

Judge Breyer found that USDA failed to address the problem of Roundup-resistant “superweeds” that could follow commercial planting of GE alfalfa. Commenting on the agency’s refusal to assess this risk, the judge stated, “Finally, the court rejects defendants’ assertion that allowing an expansion in the Roundup Ready alfalfa market is in the public interest because it promotes the use of less toxic herbicides. The record reflects that organic and most conventional forage alfalfa is grown without the use of any herbicides. In any event, a finding that increasing the use of Roundup is in the public interest is premature in light of APHIS’s failure to analyze the potential for the development of Roundup-resistant weeds.”

For more information, please visit www.centerforfoodsafety.org or www.cornucopia.org

Link to the press release.

April 26, 2007 – Genetic Engineering Bill Held Over in Assembly Agriculture Committee

Assemblymember Jared Huffman’s bill, AB 541, The Food and Farm Protection Act, was tabled in a hearing of the Assembly Agriculture Committee yesterday, after passing out of the Judiciary Committee two weeks ago.

AB 541 addresses the problems arising when genetically engineered plants cross-pollinate or otherwise contaminate non-GE crops. It establishes that the GE crop manufacturer — and not the farmer who planted the GE crop — is the responsible party if contamination occurs and causes economic damages to others. The bill also establishes a notification system for GE crops, and prohibits the open-air production of food crops genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical drugs, a practice that puts consumers at an unacceptably high risk of inadvertently eating pharmaceutical drugs.

“In proposing this bill, we are attempting to find a middle ground with this controversial issue,” stated Assemblymember Huffman. “There are those who wish the bill went further, and there are those who want no regulation of GE crops at all. I believe that AB 541 puts forward a reasonable and responsible policy that addresses the risk of GE contamination, without banning any crops or restricting access to drugs.”

Also testifying at the hearing in support of AB 541 was Greg Massa, Co-Chair of the Rice Producers of California. Referring to a series of GE contamination events that have devastated the Southern U.S. rice industry, Massa said, “Should a similar event occur in California, the rice industry here stands to lose entire markets in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, an estimated value of $200 million annually. The California rice industry as we know it will collapse if GMO contamination occurs. AB 541 provides necessary safeguards for our industry.”

This is the third time in three years that a bill dealing with GE has stalled in a legislative committee. In 2005, Assemblymember Laird introduced a bill (AB 984) dealing with the liability problem; it failed to get a motion and was later withdrawn. Then in 2006, a Monsanto-backed bill (SB 1056) that would have stripped county rights to pass GE restrictions died in committee in the face of considerable opposition. These bills and other events in California — the narrowly averted planting of pharmaceutical GE rice in 2004, the wave of county bans in 2004 through 2006, and most recently the rice contamination scare – point to the need for statewide policies.

Assemblymember Huffman and the bill’s sponsors remain committed to finding a solution to the risks associated with genetic engineering, and will continue to work with members of the Agriculture Committee and the bill’s opponents to advance the dialogue. The bill will be taken up again in January of 2008.

AB 541 has the support of all of California’s sustainable, organic and family farming organizations, as well as many other groups (including: California Farmers Union, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, California Certified Organic Farmers, Center for Food Safety, Earthbound Farm, Lundberg Family Farms, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, Rice Producers of California, California Church IMPACT, Consumers Union, Sierra Club California, Planning and Conservation League, and dozens of others). AB 541 is opposed by lobbying groups representing the interests of the chemical biotech industry and conventional industrial agribusiness.

April 2007 – Washington Legislature Opens Door for GE-Free Zones for Brassicas

The legislature of Washington State has adopted a bill a (H.B. 1888) allowing producers of brassica seeds (the genus that includes canola, broccoli, radish, mustard, cabbage and others) to petition to set up a zone to protect against GE contamination, and allowing lawsuits to enforce this isolation. Washington produces half of the world’s cabbage seeds. Download the text of the bill.

An excerpt from the bill reads:

“The legislature finds that species, hybrids, varieties, and variations of plants of the genus Brassica have potential to form genetic crosses, particularly when they are grown in geographic proximity, and will, if not properly regulated, result in significant loss of quality, purity, and value in the seed produced.”

Assemblymember Huffman’s Genetic Engineering Bill Passes Out of Assembly Judiciary Committee

Sacramento- Assemblymember Jared Huffman’s, (AD 6) AB 541, The Food and Farm Protection Act, passed out of its first committee today with a vote of 7 to 3 in support. The bill will establish California’s first state policy regarding genetic engineering in agriculture and protect farmers, the food supply and the environment from harms caused by genetic contamination of crops.

AB 541 addresses the issues arising when genetically engineered, or GE, plants cross-pollinate, get moved by animals, and mix during handling and processing with non-GE crops. In spite of the best efforts of GE producers and those trying to remain GE-free, contamination can and does occur. Farmers with markets that reject GE foods can suffer significant economic damage when their crops are contaminated.

The focus of the Judiciary Committee was on the provision of the bill that establishes that the GE crop manufacturer — and not the farmer who properly planted the GE crop — is the responsible party if contamination occurs and causes economic damages to others.

“In contamination incidents to date, the burden has been on victimized farmers to take their case to court without the benefit of established case law or legislation establishing liability,” stated Assemblymember Huffman in his testimony. “This bill levels the playing field for victims of contamination, and places the responsibility where it belongs, on the manufacturer, the entity that owns the GE plant.”

The bill has the support of a wide range of organizations including California Farmers Union, Rice Producers of California, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, California Certified Organic Farmers, Earthbound Farm, California Church IMPACT, Consumers Union, Sierra Club California, Environment California, Planning and Conservation League, and thousands of farmers and individuals.

AB 541 will next be heard in the Assembly Agriculture Committee on April 25th.

CONTACT: Joshua Townsend

Rice Board Spurns Biotech: State commission worries test plants would cut sales overseas

Excerpted from The Sacramento Bee, March 15, 2007

The California Rice Commission on Wednesday called for a moratorium on experimental plantings of genetically modified rice in the state, saying federal controls meant to keep such varieties from contaminating commercial rice are inadequate.

“We have to protect our industry at all costs,” said Keith Davis, a Marysville-area rice farmer who is chairman of a group that has been reviewing the industry’s genetic-engineering policy over the past several months.

The decision by the 40-member group meeting in Colusa was driven largely by concerns that the contamination of the state’s rice supplies with even a tiny amount of genetically engineered material could devastate sales to touchy export markets such as Japan and South Korea. The commission represents the state’s roughly 1,000 rice farmers and processors.

As much as 40 percent of California’s $200 million to $400 million annual rice harvest is sent overseas. Nearly all of the state’s rice grows in the Sacramento Valley, where it is the most widely planted crop.

The Rice Commission’s stance could put it in a strange-bedfellows situation this year as the Legislature debates a bill that would make firms that produce genetically modified seeds liable for damages if their product contaminates a field.

The state Farm Bureau opposes the bill. But the Rice Commission may find itself fighting for it alongside activist groups such as the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety.

“If the mainstream is against these things, then maybe we aren’t mainstream,” said rice grower Don Bransford.

Rice Industry Troubled by Genetic Contamination

Excerpted from The Washington Post, March 11, 2007

When Fred Zaunbrecher heard in August that the popular variety of long-grain rice he was planning to grow had become contaminated with snippets of experimental, unapproved DNA, the Louisiana rice farmer took it in stride and ordered a different variety of seed for his spring planting.

But when federal officials announced last week that the rice he and many others switched to was also contaminated — this time with a different unapproved gene — irritation grew to alarm. The two sidelined varieties accounted for about a third of last year’s Southern rice crop, and planting was set to begin within days.

“Everybody’s been scrambling for seed,” Zaunbrecher said. “I have no idea whether there will be enough or not.”

The tremors going through the U.S. long-grain rice industry — amplified by the decision of many biotech-wary nations to restrict imports of U.S. rice until questions of purity are resolved — have revealed how vulnerable a $1 billion agricultural sector can be to the escape of something as small as a molecule of DNA.

Valley Rice Farmers Take a Hard Line: Group wants ban on all bioengineered plantings

Excerpted from The Sacramento Bee, February 20, 2007

A splinter group of more than 200 Sacramento Valley rice farmers is claiming that even experimental plantings of genetically modified rice jeopardize key export markets.

The group, the Rice Producers of California, plans to release today a market study that documents the powerful opposition to such technology in several key export destinations: Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Turkey.

Greg Massa, who farms rice near Chico and is the group’s co-chairman, said he wants a ban on any outdoor planting of genetically modified rice.

Agriculture Department Violated Law, Judge Rules

Excerpted from The New York Times, February 14, 2007

A federal judge ruled yesterday that the Agriculture Department violated the law by failing to adequately assess possible environmental impacts before approving Monsanto’s genetically engineered alfalfa.

Judge Charles R. Breyer of Federal District Court in San Francisco said the agency had been “cavalier” in deciding that a full environmental impact statement was not needed because the potential environmental and economic effects of the crop were not significant.

Excerpted statement from the Judge’s decision (Geertson Seed Farms, et al. v. Johanns, Docket No. 06-1075, Feb. 14, 2007)

“…for those farmers who choose to grow non-genetically engineered alfalfa, the possibility that their crops will be infected with the engineered gene is tantamount to the elimination of all alfalfa; they cannot grow their chosen crop.”

Genetic Engineering under Fire from New Group of California Food and Business Leaders: Alliance launched to demand statewide policies on genetic engineering in agriculture

Excerpted from a press release February 14, 2007

The Genetic Engineering Policy Alliance, a group representing California businesses and organizations concerned about genetic engineering, was launched today to push for laws protecting the state’s agriculture from genetic engineering (GE). More than 50 members have signed the platform, including the Breast Cancer Fund, California Council of Churches, Consumer Action, the California Farmers Union, Whole Foods Markets, United Natural Foods Inc. and Bon Appétit Management Company.

Federal Court Orders for the First Time a Halt to New Field Trials of Genetically Engineered Crops: Past trials on genetically engineered creeping bentgrass ruled illegal

Excerpted from Center for Food Safety press release, February 6, 2007

In a decision broadly affecting field trials of genetically engineered crops a federal district judge ruled yesterday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) must halt approval of all new field trials until more rigorous environmental reviews are conducted.  Citing potential threats to the environment, Judge Harold Kennedy found in favor of the Center for Food Safety that USDA’s past approvals of field trials of herbicide tolerant, genetically engineered bentgrass were illegal.

“This is a significant victory. The decision requires far more thorough oversight of the environmental impact of these crops, ” stated Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety.

“The Court was clearly concerned that the agency has put our nation’s environment at risk by exempting many of these field trials from environmental review.  That’s why the judge made the decision broadly apply to all future field trials of genetically engineered crops.” Mendelson continued.

Biotech Rice Saga Yields Bushel of Questions for Feds

Excerpted from The Washington Post, November 6, 2006

When the biotech company Bayer CropScience AG requested federal permission in August to market a variety of gene-altered rice, it assured itself a small, unwanted place in history: the first to seek approval for a genetically engineered food that was already – illegally – on the market.

Now, as federal regulators consider that belated application, they are finding themselves under scrutiny, too – from scientists and others who say the 20-year-old system of biotech crop oversight is failing.

Federal officials are still investigating how the experimental “LLRICE601” escaped from Bayer’s test plots after the company dropped the project in 2001. When they announced 10 weeks ago that the unapproved variety had become widespread in the nation’s long-grain-rice supply, countries around the world blocked imports from the United States, rice futures plummeted and hundreds of farmers sued Bayer.

U.S. Rice Supply Contaminated: Genetically altered variety is found in long-grain rice

Excerpted from The Washington Post, August 19, 2006

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced late yesterday that U.S. commercial supplies of long-grain rice had become inadvertently contaminated with a genetically engineered variety not approved for human consumption.

Johanns said he did not know where the contaminated rice was found or how widespread it may be in the U.S. food supply. The agency first learned about it from the company, he said, after it discovered “trace amounts” during testing of commercial supplies.

Johanns acknowledged that the discovery could have a significant impact on rice sales — especially exports, which are worth close to $1 billion a year. Many U.S. trading partners have strict policies forbidding importation of certain genetically engineered foods, even if they are approved in the United States.

Those restrictions reflect a mix of science-based fears that some gene-altered foods or seeds may pose health or environmental hazards; cultural beliefs about food purity; and political wrangling over trade disparities.

If other countries cut off imports, the political and economic impact could rival or exceed that of the last such major event — the discovery in 2000 that the U.S. corn supply had become contaminated with StarLink corn. StarLink, which was engineered to be insect-resistant, was approved for use in animal feed but not for humans because of its potential to trigger allergic reactions.

The StarLink episode led to the recall of hundreds of products and the destruction of corn crops on hundreds of thousands of acres. There have been several smaller incidents requiring similar actions since.

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