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Brooklin Voters Reject Modified Crops

By Wendy M. Fontaine
Bangor Daily News
April 04, 2005

BROOKLIN - After a debate that shifted between contentiousness and hostility, voters on Saturday made their community the first in Maine to take a collective stance against the use of genetically modified crops. At Brooklin's annual town meeting, the question whether to voluntarily ban the cultivation of genetically engineered plants, trees, fish and animals was the last item on the warrant, sparking a public debate characterized by jeers, shouting and accusations that each side was spreading misinformation.

The measure to make Brooklin a GE-free zone is not an ordinance but more of a symbolic gesture about the town's feelings about altered crops.

Marilyn Anderson, who submitted the petition that ultimately put the topic on the warrant, said it is one community's statement against the dangers of genetically modified organisms.

"This is the town of Brooklin saying, 'Enough,'" she said. "This is a consciousness-raising. This is about hoping that anyone who plants or grows anything is very aware of the effects it can have on the environment."

Genetically modified organisms are those that have had their DNA altered in some manner in order to change their characteristics.

Proponents say the method can make crops stronger and more resistant to problems such as disease and pests, while opponents argue the modified species are invasive and potentially dangerous for the environment. The topic has been a hot issue in Maine in recent years.

About 100 people gathered in the Brooklin elementary school gymnasium for Saturday's meeting, which lasted five hours before the topic of genetic engineering even came up. Contrary to past practice, most stayed until the end, eager to have their say on GMOs.

Organic grower Leslie Cummins, who lives in Brooklin and is a member of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association's public policy committee, has been an activist against GMOs for several years.

She said modified crops have lower yields, are less nutritious and can cause irreversible damage once they are introduced into the environment.

"If we get polluted or contaminated, that's it. It's out there," she said.

Resident Tim Seabrook said genetic modification goes beyond selective breeding and hybridization. A gene from one species is implanted in another, crossing the boundaries of what occurs in nature, he said.

Tammy Andrews, the town's treasurer, said she feared the voluntary ban would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to declarations against other activities in her community.

"What's going to be next?" she said. "A no-pet zone? A no-smoking zone? A no-Catholics zone? You're opening up a can of worms."

Much of Saturday's hostility focused on whether to allow Douglas R. Johnson, executive director of the private, nonprofit Maine Biotechnology Information Bureau, to speak at the meeting.

Johnson, a Stonington resident, was prepared to address the group about some of the merits of biotechnology but residents called him a "high-paid lobbyist" and refused to let him speak.

"We don't need any outside lobbyist," one person yelled from the bleachers.

"Was he paid to be here today?" another shouted.

Resident John Bradford favored allowing Johnson to speak, saying residents should hear both sides of the debate before "making a blanket condemnation of GMOs."

"We need to be enlightened about this, simply because it is a highly complex issue," he said. "This is not just a Brooklin issue. It is an international issue."

Bradford also said he felt the town was being used "as a pawn" by groups pushing to get Maine to adopt GE-free zone legislation. His comments were met by booing from the audience.

"I think that some people sound very scared to hear another point of view," said resident Joyce Barr, who wanted to hear what Johnson had to say. "I want to be informed as a voter," she said.

After more than an hour of debate, town officials called for a standing vote. A two-thirds majority of voters approved the voluntary ban.

Immediately after the meeting, Johnson told the BDN that he received no pay to attend the meeting.

"I'm not a lobbyist. I'm an advocate," he said.

Saturday's declaration was not intended to prohibit laboratory research or to prevent businesses from selling, serving or marketing genetically modified products.

That left some, such as 19-year-old Mike Allen Jr., wondering why the topic was presented to residents in the first place.

"What is the point of this?" he said. "If it's not going to change anything or restrict anything, then it's a waste of time in my opinion."


US States Passing Laws to Block Local GMO-free Ordinances

The Non-GMO Report
April 2005

At least nine US states, including Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Dakota, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, and West Virginia have either passed or introduced legislation that would preempt local cities and counties from restricting the sale of genetically modified seeds.

The bills are viewed as a nationally coordinated attempt to block GMO-free ordinances similar to those approved by citizens in Mendocino and Marin counties in California in 2004.

In March, Iowa's House of Representative passed a bill, House File 642, that would preempt "a local governmental entity… from adopting or enforcing legislation which relates to the production, use, advertising, sale, distribution, storage, transportation, formulation, packaging, labeling, certification, or registration of agricultural seed." A similar bill was introduced into the Iowa Senate.

State Representative Sandy Greiner (R-Keota), who introduced HF 642, argued the bill is needed to make seed regulations uniform statewide instead of a "patchwork" of local regulations.

Mona Bond, of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, which lobbied to introduce the bill, said, "The bill is not about GMOs, it’s about seed. Farmers shouldn't be prohibited from growing what they want to grow."

"Legislate by and for the biotechnology industry"

However, opponents say HF 642 aims to protect producers of genetically modified seed. Sate Representative Mark Kuhn, (D-Floyd) called the bill "an attempt to legislate by and for the biotechnology industry." Kuhn said the real issue is the economic damage caused to family farmers by market rejection of GM crops.

State Representative John Whitaker (D-Van Buren) sees the bill as a further erosion of local control over controversial agricultural practices, such as genetically modified crops and hog confinement facilities that raise significant health and environmental concerns.

"Soon, large corporations will be replacing small grain farmers because they can’t compete. This devastates rural communities and Main Streets," said Whitaker.

Roger Lansink, an organic farmer, said, "What if some areas want to establish a GMC free zone for economic advantage? These bills will shout the door to that possibility."

LaVon Griffieon, a farmer who produces GM seed, worries that the bill would allow unregulated planting and contamination from crops engineered to produce pharmaceuticals.

Officials at Vedic City, an Iowa town that has an ordinance requiring the sale of organic food only, also oppose the bill. "We believe very strongly in organic because organic does no harm to the environment," said Mayor Robert Wynne.

Aims to stop GMO-free initiatives

Opponents also charge that the main purpose of the bill is to block GMO-free ballot measures similar to those passed in Mendocino and Marin counties in California last year.

Citizens in those counties enacted local bans on cultivation of GM crops. "What it really is, is an attempt to prevent, in Iowa, what has happened in California, where counties have banned the growing of genetically engineered crops," said Jeffrey Smith, director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, based in Fairfield.

In early March, the House and Senate agricultural committees approved their respective versions of the seed bill, and the full House passed it by 70-27. If the Senate approves the bill, Governor Tom Vilsack is expected to sign it into law.

During a House debate, Kuhn introduced an amendment to the bill that would allow for the creation of "identity preserved" production zones for producing organic and non-GM crops, but the measure was voted down 62-35.

Bills passed in PA, GA, ND; other states enacting legislation

If passed, the Iowa seed bill would be the fourth such legislation passed in the United States. Last December, Pennsylvania passed House Bill 2387, which states, "no ordinance or regulation of political subdivision or home rule municipality may prohibit or in any way attempt to regulate any matter relating to the registration, labeling, sale, storage, transportation, distribution, notification of use or use of seeds."

In February, Georgia passed Senate Bill 87 that prohibits local governments from regulating "seeds." In early March, the North Dakota legislature passed a similar bill, Senate Bill 2277, by a 69 to 25 vote. Ken Bertsch, seed commissioner with the North Dakot State Seed Department, acknowledged that the bill aims to prevent passage of Mendocino-type ordinances. "There is concern that what happened in California could happen here, and that absent this type of legislation there could develop a patchwork of different ordinances that could be difficult to enforce," he said.

Similar seed bills have been introduced and are working their way through legislatures in Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, and West Virginia.

"Organized by big industry players"

Language in all the seed bills is similar, containing words such as "registration, labeling, sale, storage, transportation, use, and notification of use: of seed". NO bills mention "genetically modified," or "biotechnology" though Idaho's House Bill 38 states that local regulations "are often not based on principles or good science," a thinly-veiled reference to Mendocino County's rejection of GM crops.

Does the similar language indicate a coordinated nation wide effort to pass such legislation? Joseph Mendelson, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, thinks so. "I'm sure that it is organized by big industry players who are fearful that the California strategy (GMO-free initiatives) may spread," he said.


Consigning Citizens to Mere Spectators:
How Preemptive Seed Legislation is Destroying Democracy

By Britt Bailey
Rural Vermont No. 29
April, 2005

In late 2004, the American Farm Bureau Federation, in association with the biotechnology industry, began its preemptive march through the state legislatures. Thus far, eight states have introduced bills prohibiting local communities from introducing policies related to seeds. These states include Pennsylvania, Iowa, Idaho, North Dakota, Georgia, Oklahoma, Indiana, and West Virginia. The preemptive laws are an underhanded attack against our rights to participate in the government process. They have been introduced in response to the passage in California of County Initiatives limiting the growing of genetically modified seeds and livestock.

Preemption is the judicial principle that declares the supremacy of one level of government over another in a specific subject area. In this latest example of seed laws, it is the state claiming primacy over local legislation pertaining to seeds. Essentially, preemption at the state level is industry's trump card used to remove communities' rights to enact stronger laws at the local level. According to Bob Campbell of the State of California Department of Finance, "state preemption laws can do two things. They can overturn the will of the people in the event an initiative has passed, and they can prevent the introduction of laws on the same subject from being introduced in the future."

The virtually identical language used in the introduced pre-emption bills illustrates a systematic and ordered approach to stifle community decision-making by trying to pass laws that simply say local governments cannot pass laws related to seeds. For example, North Dakota's Senate Bill states, "A political subdivision, including a home rule city or county, may not adopt or continue in effect any ordinance, resolution, initiative, or home rule charter regarding the registration, labeling, distribution, sale, handling, use, application, transportation, or disposal of seed." Likewise, Idaho's House Bill 38 states, "no ordinance, rule or regulation of any political subdivision may prohibit or in any way attempt to regulate any matter relating to the registration, labeling, sale, storage, transportation, distribution, notification of use, or use of seeds." In addition to using similar language, the bills' pioneers in the various state legislatures have biographies and campaign contributors in common as well. Most receive funds from state farm bureaus. Some receive more direct funds from biotechnology companies such as Monsanto. And, most introducing legislators hail from rural farming and ranching communities. For example, Sandy Greiner, the House Representative who introduced her seed preemption bill in Iowa receives campaign contributions from the Iowa Farm Bureau, Monsanto, Iowa Agribusiness Employees, and John Deere.1 North Dakota's Representatives who introduced and carried their preemptive seed bill are Farm Bureau members.

When I contacted the office of Georgia Representative John Bulloch to question the reasoning behind its preemptive seed law, a staff member stated, "the genesis came from what is happening in California. We wanted to keep authority pertaining to seeds within the Department of Agriculture. The Department has the knowledge; the brain trust if you will, to better control the types of foods we grow. We do not want a small voting segment of the population which has limited knowledge to wipe out a sector of our crops." Supporters of this bill include the Georgia Agribusiness Council and the State Farm Bureau.

Laws establishing preemption are not a new industry strategy. From 1982-1997 the tobacco industry worked diligently to introduce state laws to prevent cities, towns, and counties from initiating and introducing restrictive tobacco laws. After all, by 1997, nearly 1200 cities and towns had implemented tobacco related laws including restricting smoking in restaurants, limiting youth access to cigarettes, and controlling advertising and promotions for tobacco products. According to Victor Crawford, a tobacco industry lobbyist, "We could never win at the local level. The reason is, all the health advocates, the ones unfortunately I used to call 'health Nazis,' they're all local activists who run the little political organizations. They may live next door to the mayor, or the city councilman, and they say 'Who's this big-time lobbyist coming here to tell us what to do?' When they've got their friends and neighbors out there in the audience who want this bill, we get killed."2

Just as industry acted to influence and introduce preemptive legislation restricting local tobacco laws, it is clear corporations and their affiliated associations are behind the moves to thwart local efforts to better protect public welfare and small family farmers by creating more sustainable visions for our food supply. Industry knows that at a local level- the level where society actually gets to participate in decision-making-it will lose its ability to convert our seeds and subsequent foods to those that are genetically modified.

Both our state and federal constitutions are living documents. They follow our struggle and reflect our progress, our difficulties, and our exchange of ideas. Since their ratification, we have acquired a more balanced voting system where women can vote, African-Americans are no longer considered property, and we have imposed alcohol prohibitions then later repealed such measures after grappling with and discussing such bans. We have debated on abortion, marriage, healthcare, and greenhouse gas emissions.

It is the dialogue that makes for a better government and a better society. Philosopher John Dewey points out that democracy is not is not an end in itself, but is rather a means for individual discovery and self-actualization. He argues that people are shaped by the degree to which they can participate in the democratic process. For it is through discussion and involvement in government and its outcomes that individuals become more publicly spirited, tolerant, knowledgeable, and self-reflective.3 In other words, democracy is not for spectators.

Preemptive legislation stifles citizen participation. The legislators introducing these bills concerning seeds are not acting on behalf of the people; they are acting despite the will of the people. Furthermore, preemption restrains our constitutions from changing and growing. It prevents cultural advancement and fair and reasoned opinions.

A democracy void of discussion is hardly a democracy. As preemption laws march through state legislatures, we cease to be players in the political field. Instead, we become relegated to being mere spectators.

  1. Institute on Money and State Politics. Candidate Database ( Accessed 17 February, 2005.
  2. M. Siegel, J. Carol, J. Jordan et al. Preemption in tobacco control. Review of an emerging public health problem. JAMA 1997;278:858-863.
  3. David Held, Models of Democracy, Second Edition, Stanford University Press, 1996

Britt Bailey, director of the non-profit Environmental Commons, is the co-author of Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food (Common Courage Press, 1998) and is Senior Editor of Engineering the Farm: The Social and Ethical Aspects of Agricultural Biotechnology (Island Press, 2002). Britt is currently working on a third book pertaining to GMOs titled Home Field Advantage (forthcoming Common Courage Press). Legislative seed laws and preemption


Roundup® Highly Lethal to Amphibians in Natural Setting, Finds University of Pittsburgh Researcher

Contact: Karen Hoffmann
Rural Vermont No. 29
April 1, 2005

Some species totally eliminated

PITTSBURGH - The herbicide Roundup® is widely used to eradicate weeds. But a study published today by a University of Pittsburgh researcher finds that the chemical may be eradicating much more than that.

Pitt assistant professor of biology Rick Relyea found that Roundup®, the second most commonly applied herbicide in the United States, is "extremely lethal" to amphibians. This field experiment is one of the most extensive studies on the effects of pesticides on nontarget organisms in a natural setting, and the results may provide a key link to global amphibian declines.

In a paper titled "The Impact of Insecticides and Herbicides on the Biodiversity and Productivity of Aquatic Communities," published in the journal Ecological Applications, Relyea examined how a pond's entire community-25 species, including crustaceans, insects, snails, and tadpoles-responded to the addition of the manufacturers' recommended doses of two insecticides-Sevin® (carbaryl) and malathion-and two herbicides-Roundup® (glyphosate) and 2,4-D.

Relyea found that Roundup® caused a 70 percent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 percent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree frog tadpoles were completely eliminated and wood frog tadpoles and toad tadpoles were nearly eliminated. One species of frog, spring peepers, was unaffected.

"The most shocking insight coming out of this was that Roundup®, something designed to kill plants, was extremely lethal to amphibians," said Relyea, who conducted the research at Pitt's Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology. "We added Roundup®, and the next day we looked in the tanks and there were dead tadpoles all over the bottom."

Relyea initially conducted the experiment to see whether the Roundup® would have an indirect effect on the frogs by killing their food source, the algae. However, he found that Roundup®, although an herbicide, actually increased the amount of algae in the pond because it killed most of the frogs.

"It's like killing all the cows in a field and seeing that the field has more grass in it-not because you made the grass grow better, but because you killed everything that eats grass," he said.

Previous research had found that the lethal ingredient in Roundup® was not the herbicide itself, glyphosate, but rather the surfactant, or detergent, that allows the herbicide to penetrate the waxy surfaces of plants. In Roundup®, that surfactant is a chemical called polyethoxylated tallowamine. Other herbicides have less dangerous surfactants: For example, Relyea's study found that 2,4-D had no effect on tadpoles.

"We've repeated the experiment, so we're confident that this is, in fact, a repeatable result that we see," said Relyea. "It's fair to say that nobody would have guessed Roundup® was going to be so lethal to amphibians."

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