Genetic Engineering Policy Alliance Newsletter - February 2008
California’s Genetic Engineering Bill Approved in the State Assembly
Bill Would Protect Farmers from GMO Contamination
Thanks for your letters of support! We will alert you again when the bill is due to be heard in the Senate.
AB 541, which could become California’s first state law protecting farmers from the hazards of genetically engineered crops, passed out of the full Assembly on January 29 with a vote of 49-13. It has the support of the California Farm Bureau as well as California Certified Organic Farmers, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, the California Farmers Union and many food safety and environmental organizations.
Introduced by Assembly Member Jared Huffman (6th AD) early in 2007, the bill was held over in the Agriculture Committee in April. Since then, AB 541 has been scaled back to address two provisions related to farmer protections.
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 level the 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 newly amended bill would provide for:
- Protection from patent infringement lawsuits for farmers unknowingly contaminated by GE crops. Currently, farmers with crops that become contaminated by patented seeds or pollen have been the target of such lawsuits without clear recourse or defense.
- 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 a state agriculture official to accompany the patent holder during the sampling and collect duplicate samples for independent verification if requested by either party.
“I am very pleased that the stakeholders on this issue have found a way to address one of the issues related to genetic contamination of crops,” stated Assembly Member Huffman. “While there is still work to do on other issues concerning genetically engineered food, AB 541 would be an important step in establishing basic protections for California’s farmers.”
The original bill included several other elements, including the establishment of the country’s first system of notification for the locations of GE crops; the confinement of experimental pharmaceutical-producing crops to greenhouses to protect the food system from contamination; and, legislative clarity that the GE crop manufacturer is liable in the event of contamination, and not farmers.
“While AB 541 as currently amended represents only a small piece of what our stakeholders identify as issues to be addressed, we think this represents a move in the right direction,” stated Renata Brillinger, director of the Genetic Engineering Policy Project, the 13-member coalition of organic and conventional farmers, food industry, environmental, and faith organizations sponsoring AB 541.
The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.
Genetic Engineering Policy Project
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 and Ecology Center • Oakland Institute • Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op • Pesticide Action Network North America • United Natural Foods, Inc.
Lawsuit Filed to Stop GE Sugar Beet Introduction
Farmers, food safety advocates, and conservation groups filed suit on Jan. 22, 2008 in federal court challenging the deregulation of herbicide-tolerant “Roundup Ready” sugar beets by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Attorneys from the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice are representing plaintiffs Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, High Mowing Seeds. The lawsuit seeks a thorough assessment of environmental, health, and associated economic impacts of the deregulation as required by federal law.
This spring, commercial sugar beet farmers in the western United States will begin planting Roundup Ready sugar beets, which are genetically engineered (GE) to be resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. Sugar beet seeds are primarily grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, also an important seed growing area for crops closely related to sugar beets, such as organic chard and table beets. The wind-pollinated GE sugar beets will inevitably cross-pollinate with related crops being grown in proximity, contaminating conventional sugar beets and organic chard and table beet crops.
“Contamination from genetically engineered pollen is a major risk to both the conventional and organic seed farmers, who have a long history in the Willamette Valley,” said the Organic Seed Alliance’s Director of Advocacy, Matthew Dillon. “The economic impact of contamination affects not only these seed farmers, but the beet and chard farmers who rely on the genetic integrity of their varieties. The government is playing fast and loose with these farmers’ livelihoods.”
French Government Extends Bans GE Corn
France will activate a safeguard clause that will effectively prohibit growing the sole genetically modified (GMO) crop grown in France, Prime Minister Francois Fillon’s office said in a statement on Friday.
Last month, France, pressured by consumers, suspended the commercial use of MON 810, a maize developed by U.S. biotech giant Monsanto to resist the European corn borer, in order to look into the environmental and health implications of its use.
A government-appointed committee of scientists, farmers, politicians and organizations said on Wednesday ”serious doubts” remained over whether MON 810 could be cultivated without risks, paving the way for the extension of the ban.