Genetic Engineering Policy Alliance Newsletter - January 2008
AB 541 Heading for Ag Committee
Please send your letters of support by January 11th.
Early in 2007, Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-Marin) introduced AB 541 to address the risks of contamination by genetically engineered crops. The bill passed through the Assembly Judiciary Committee, but then stalled in the agribusiness-controlled Agriculture Committee last April. It will be heard again in that committee on January 16th.
AB 541 has three components. First, it establishes that the GE manufacturer is liable in the event of damages caused by contamination. 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. This bill levels the playing field for victims of contamination, and places the responsibility where it belongs, on the manufacturer that owns the GE material. It also protects innocent farmers whose crops have been contaminated from being sued for patent infringement by the GE manufacturer, a practice that currently occurs.
Second, the bill requires that GE growers notify their county Agriculture Commissioner of their production. The locations of GE crops — including the dozens of experimental field trials every year — are currently unknown even to state and county officials. Farmers cannot trace GE contamination to the responsible manufacturer, nor do they have information with which to assess their risk of contamination and take measures to limit it.
Third, AB 541 prohibits the open-field production of a class of GE food crops engineered to produce pharmaceutical drugs such as vaccines, hormones, and antibodies. Pharmaceutical crops are currently grown in open-field trials in undisclosed locations in California, a practice that puts consumers at an unacceptably high risk of unknowingly eating unapproved drugs.
AB 541 is sponsored by a coalition of agriculture, environmental, faith, and food industry organizations. It has the support of many of California’s organic and family farming organizations, as well as California’s largest rice mill and the Rice Producers of California. Leading the opposition are the pro-biotech California Farm Bureau and the California Seed Association.
For a sample letter of support and more information on the issue see our Action Alert.
News: Proposed Ban on Genetically Modified Corn in Europe
European Union environmental officials have determined that two kinds of genetically modified corn could harm butterflies, affect food chains and disturb life in rivers and streams, and they have proposed a ban on the sale of the seeds, which are made by DuPont Pioneer, Dow Agrosciences and Syngenta.
The preliminary decisions are circulating within the European Commission, which has the final say. In the decisions, the environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, contends that the genetically modified corn, or maize could affect certain butterfly species, specifically the monarch, and other beneficial insects. For instance, research this year indicates that larvae of the monarch butterfly exposed to the genetically modified corn "behave differently than other larvae."
In the decision concerning the corn seeds produced by Dow and Pioneer, Mr. Dimas calls "potential damage on the environment irreversible." In the decision on Syngenta's corn, he says that "the level of risk generated by the cultivation of this product for the environment is unacceptable."
A decision by the European Union to bar cultivation of the genetically modified crops would be the first of its kind in the trade bloc, and would intensify the continuing battle over genetically modified corn.
News: USDA's insurance break for Monsanto
While the federal government doesn't usually endorse products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has struck an unusual arrangement with agribusiness giant Monsanto Co. that gives farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota a break on federal crop insurance premiums if they plant Monsanto-brand seed corn this spring.
The arrangement has raised some eyebrows, particularly among organic farm groups that argue the government agency should not be promoting corn that contains an herbicide; the Monsanto brands contain chemicals that kill weeds and insects.
Monsanto's deal is legal, note USDA officials who point out that such arrangements were encouraged in a 2000 crop insurance law that Congress enthusiastically passed. The idea is to give farmers a break on their insurance premiums if they use corn seeds that are higher yield and shown to resist insects and other threats.
USDA officials said they are aware of the appearance of favoritism toward one of the nation's largest ag companies.
"We knew it would look that way," said Shirley Pugh, a spokeswoman for USDA's Risk Management Agency, which administers federal crop insurance. "But other companies can come and do the same thing. We are making the discount available because the corn has shown the traits necessary to reduce the risk."
The mission of Earthbound Farm is to bring the benefits of organic food to as many people as possible and serve as a catalyst for positive change. Earthbound Farm certified organic produce is grown by about 150 dedicated farmers, who use the same organic farming methods on the smallest farm (about 5 acres) as on the largest (about 680 acres). Together, we're working to bring healthy and delicious organic food to people wherever they live and shop, and to protect the environment.
Earthbound Farm has shown that organic farming can, indeed, feed millions. In everything we do — farming, energy efficiency, environmental protection, food safety, contributing to our communities — we are serious about our role as a catalyst for positive change. Challenging the conventional is part of the Earthbound Farm culture. To be a catalyst for positive change, we've challenged a lot of conventional thinking. From the beginning, we have worked to produce the healthiest food possible and have a positive effect on our environment; that has meant fundamentally changing the way food is farmed.
Organic integrity is a priority at Earthbound Farm. We are committed to making sure that the organic label means just that: organic. We see value in the GE Policy Alliance coalition building and work with lawmakers to pass a law that will protect farmers from the economic losses due to contamination.
California Church IMPACT
California Church IMPACT is the legislative advocacy arm of the California Council of Churches. It helps its member denominations, local congregations, and individual church members to be effective advocates in the public policy processes of government. In recent years, IMPACT has advocated for those who can't afford high-priced lobbyists at the State Capitol: low-income mothers, hungry children, elderly immigrants, and the homeless. Welfare reform, expanding access to health care, gun violence, civil rights, and the protection of religious liberty are some of the contemporary public policy issues we feel passionate about.
One of the Council's most important issues is care for creation. Protecting our natural and agricultural resources is essential to promoting that care. As part of the GE Policy Alliance, we are able to speak against the degradation of our food supply through exposure to genetically altered crops that can endanger basic farming as well as the health and well-being of all of humanity.