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Farmer Protection Acts Crop Up in Three States

For Immediate Release
February 4, 2005

Farmers Push for Shield from Biotech Crop Liability as States Try to Cope With Genetically Engineered Crops

Billings, Mont. – Farmers in Vermont, Montana, and North Dakota are supporting legislation to make biotechnology companies, not farmers and grain elevators, liable for damages from genetically modified crops. These bills would also prevent the manufacturers from suing farmers whose fields are contaminated by genetically engineered crops and are unintentionally growing these crops.

Legislative committees in Vermont and Montana heard testimony today supporting Farmer Protection Acts. More hearings are scheduled in both states next week for further consideration of the legislation.

A hearing is scheduled next Thursday in North Dakota by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Senate Bill 2235.

Farm advocacy groups across the nation are working with farmers to ensure protection for farmers and by holding companies responsible for any damage caused by their products.

"We've done our homework for Vermont's farmers and our bill is strong and clean. We must make sure that farmers are not bearing the burden for the manufacturers who are marketing a product that is designed to contaminate," stated Amy Shollenberger, policy director of Rural Vermont. "I am encouraged by the strong support for S.18."

In Montana, wheat growers lined up to support Senate Bill 218 during a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"If genetically engineered wheat is introduced, this bill will protect farmers from the liabilities associated with this crop resulting from contamination by making sure biotechnology companies are responsible for their product," said Dena Hoff, a farmer near Glendive, Mont., and representative of the Northern Plains Resource Council.

Hoff cited a recently released study, Monsanto vs. Farmers, by the Center for Food Safety that found that Monsanto has sued or is suing more than 100 farmers for patent infringement. Even farmers who have not planted the seeds are at risk of these lawsuits.

Currently, farmers who buy genetically engineered seeds must sign a Technology Use Agreements. These agreements shield the patent company from liability for contamination and place the full liability burden on farmers. Farmers contend these agreements essentially pit farmer against farmer when conflicts arise.

Farmers are equally concerned about the affects on grain elevators. "Losses to a country elevator for a 400,000 bushel train load of wheat to a west coast port could equal a half-million dollar loss of milling grade, transportation costs, and railroad charges for a train load of wheat sitting idle at the port," said Todd Leake, a wheat farmer from Grand Forks County, N.D., and member of the Dakota Resource Council. "These losses would bankrupt these country elevators."

Rural Vermont educates, activates, and advocates for living soils, thriving farms, and healthy communities

Northern Plains is a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group that organizes Montana citizens to protect water quality, family farms and ranches, and a high quality of life.

The Dakota Resource Council is a grassroots citizens group in North Dakota working for family agriculture and responsible energy development since 1978

Northern Plains and the Dakota Resource Council are members of WORC (Western Organization of Resource Councils), a grassroots organization of farmers, ranchers, and consumers in seven western states.


Canadian Government to Unleash Terminator Bombshell at UN Meeting

ETC Group
February 7, 2005

all-out push for commercialisation of Sterile Seed Technology.

A confidential document leaked today to ETC Group reveals that the Canadian Government, at a United Nations meeting in Bangkok (Feb 7-11), will attempt to overturn an international moratorium on genetic seed sterilisation technology, (known universally as Terminator). Even worse, the Canadian government has instructed its negotiators to "block consensus" on any other option.

"Canada is about to launch a devastating kick in the stomach to the world's most vulnerable farmers the 1.4 billion people who depend on farm saved seed," said ETC Group Executive Director Pat Mooney speaking from Ottawa. "The Canadian government is doing the dirty work for the multinational gene giants and the US government. Even Monsanto wasn?t prepared to be this upfront and nasty. Canada is betraying Farmers' Rights and food sovereignty everywhere."

Terminator technology was first developed by the US government and the seed industry to prevent farmers from re-planting saved seed and is considered the most controversial and immoral agricultural application of genetic engineering so far. When first made public in 1998, "suicide seeds" triggered an avalanche of public opposition, forcing Monsanto to abandon the technology and prompting the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to impose a de facto moratorium on its further development. According to the leaked instructions to Canadian negotiators at SBSTTA 10 (a scientific advisory body to the CBD) Canada will insist on Wednesday (9 Feb) that governments accept the field testing and commercialization of Terminator varieties (referred to as GURTS - Genetic Use Restriction Technologies). Canada will also attack an official UN report, prepared by an international expert group, which is critical of the potential impacts of Terminator seeds on small farmers and Indigenous Peoples. In stark contrast to Canada?s position, the expert report recommends that governments seek prohibitions on the technology.

In Bangkok, civil society and Indigenous Peoples are calling on the Canadian government to abandon its endorsement of Terminator and to join with other governments to prohibit the technology once and for all. Many African and Asian governments have called for Terminator to be banned and the European Union has also been supportive of the existing moratorium.

"It is outrageous that Canada is backing an anti-farmer technology and shameful that it will 'block consensus' on any other outcome. Governments from around the world must not accept this bullying tactic," says ETC Group?s Hope Shand from the negotiations in Bangkok. "If Canada blocks decision making on this issue, the moratorium will be in jeopardy and terminator seeds will be commercialized ending up in the fields of small farmers."

The full leaked text of the Canadian government's instructions to its negotiators on Terminator/GURTS follows.

"Advice on the report of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (GURTS);

Canada has major reservations regarding the recommendations in the AHTEG report. Canada notes that the experts were unable to reach consensus and that while this is recognized in para. 15 of the report, this should have been made clear in the recommendation section of the report. Unfortunately, the report leaves the impression that consensus was achieved on all of the recommendations when this was clearly not case and in particular in terms of recommendation (b) which reads as follows, ?In view of the current lack of data, recommends that Parties and other Governments consider the development of regulatory frameworks not to approve GURTs for field-testing and commercial use.?

Canada will suggest that the document clearly indicate in the Annex that there is no consensus on for the recommendations. Alternatively, the AHTEG report can be referred to as the "Chairs' report". Canada also believes that the AHTEG report contains scientific inaccuracies and a lack of balance in terms of reflecting both potential positive and negative impacts of this technology, and these issues should be addressed before the report is further distributed. We believe that it would be beneficial for Parties and other governments to submit comments to the Executive Secretary/CHM to represent national views to improve the accuracy of the document, and that these be made available to both the 8j working group and COP.

Additionally, Canada will propose that SBSTTA adopt a recommendation for decision at COP8 based on the revised wording of recommendation "b? below and will propose this recommendation be incorporated for consideration at the 8j meeting:

NEW WORDING for recommendation b) of AHTEG report

(b) In view of the current lack of data, recommend that Parties and other Governments consider the development of domestic regulatory frameworks TO ALLOW FOR THE EVALUATION OF NOVEL VARIETIES, INCLUDING THOSE WITH GURTS, FOR FIELD TESTING AND COMMERCIAL USE BASED ON APPROPRIATE SCIENCE-BASED ENVIRONMENTAL RISK/SAFETY ASSESSMENTS.

In Canada's opinion the revised wording we are suggesting, strengthens the recommendation and provides for a strong scientific assessment of risk.

If we are unsuccessful in obtaining these additions (indication that recommendations in the AHTEG report were not based on consensus OR agreement to have national views submitted) AND changes to recommendation "B" --or any other outcome which clearly addresses our concern over a de facto moratorium on GURTS-- Canada is prepared to block consensus on this issue."


FDA Plan Offers Upfront GMO Safety Assurance

by Martin Ross
Farm Weekly, USA
February 3, 2005

Proposed new federal procedures would offer consumers up-front assurances of biotech food safety before new GMO crops even reach the test plot.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week wrapped up public comment on an "early food safety evaluation" proposal aimed at assessing potential toxicity or allergy concerns related to "new" non-pesticidal proteins produced by biotech plants intended for food or feed use.

The plan -- according to Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) spokesman Lisa Dry, a "very long overdue" move -- would provide for assessment of GMO crop safety prior to USDA-supervised field trials. BIO's member ag biotech companies, as well as Farm Bureau, support the proposal.

The proposal would not cover Bt crops, which are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But American Farm Bureau Federation analyst Michelle Gorman said early evaluation could help head off the kind of uncertainty about public safety that arose in 1999 after StarLink Bt corn protein was found in consumer corn products.

StarLink had been approved for feed but not food use.

In the event of pollen drift or commingling of grain between commercial and GMO test plots, FDA's plan could assure the public of the unapproved product's safety even if it reaches the food chain.

That could help prevent costly recalls such as the withdrawal of taco shells, chips, and tortillas from grocery shelves that occurred during the StarLink incident.

FDA's plan thus is "important in maintaining consumer acceptance," Gorman said.

"Because the variety of crops is expanding, because there are continually more field trials, I think the industry, the food processors, and others take the point of view that it would really be a good idea to have some kind of earlier testing in place," Dry told FarmWeek.

"Then, should some low-level trace amount (of GMO protein) show up somewhere where you didn't expect it, you don't have to have a food recall because it hasn't been through the whole regulatory system."

While FDA proposes voluntary evaluations for biotech developers, Dry noted that in today's consumer-sensitive environment, all biotech companies are expected to participate. [As if that has any real value or meaning beyond a rubber stamp. What a joke! - SNTG]


Fall Vote Likely on GMO Ban

by Spencer Soper
The Press Democrat
February 6, 2005

The fight bearing down on Sonoma County over genetically engineered crops and animals could shift to the Legislature as efforts escalate to pre-empt an emerging patchwork of local ordinances.

Later this year, possibly in November, Sonoma County voters will decide whether to impose a 10-year ban on the cultivation of genetically modified plants, livestock and fish.

The county Board of Supervisors will determine the fate Tuesday of an initiative signed by more than 45,000 people - the most ever in Sonoma County to sign a ballot petition - to ban genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

County supervisors must adopt the proposed ordinance or place the measure before voters. On Tuesday, they likely will request a 30-day study of the ramifications of a ban before scheduling an election for later this year.

"I don't know how much scientific data there is out there to determine if this is a real threat to people or if this is overkill in terms of overregulation," county Supervisor Mike Kerns said. "If it goes to the voters, we need time to provide accurate information to voters so they can make an informed decision."

Supervisors Paul Kelley and Valerie Brown echoed Kerns' call for more information.

"I think the GMO issue is heading for an election," said Kelley, who wants to know what implementing such an ordinance would cost. "Before we run off and put something on the ballot, we ought to have some sense of what those costs are."

Meanwhile, a Tulare County assemblyman and fruit farmer said he wants the state to adopt rules on genetically modified products that would supercede county guidelines and provide a more uniform regulatory framework for the farming industry.

"This needs to be an issue addressed at the statewide level," said Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, vice chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee. "I am working on something in that direction. If you have different rules in different counties, it makes it much more complicated."

No state legislation has been introduced and it remains unclear if that will happen this legislative session. But Maze's comments demonstrate a broader effort is under way to nullify the county-by-county voter initiatives that began in Mendocino County last year and spread to Marin, San Luis Obispo, Butte, Humboldt and, most recently, Sonoma counties.

Voters approved GMO bans in Marin and Mendocino counties.

For now, the Sonoma initiative is largely symbolic. GE-Free Sonoma County, the group that crafted the proposed ban, says there are no known genetically modified crops cultivated in the county. There have been no violations in neighboring Mendocino or Marin counties since they enacted GMO bans last year.

"To this date, we have not had one complaint alleging anyone is growing GMOs," said Tony Linegar, Mendocino County's assistant agricultural commissioner. "It's (the GMO ban) had very little impact on our office."

Nearly all the soybeans and cotton and half the corn in the United States is genetically engineered, but little else is. Those crops are not grown on a large scale on the North Coast, where agriculture is dominated by the wine industry and dairies run a distant second.

But supporters of a GMO ban, including environmentalists and organic farmers, say they want to protect the county's agricultural economy and environment from contamination from genetically modified products before they arrive.

Both sides of the GMO debate are shifting their political strategies following the costly and controversial campaign in Mendocino County, the first in the nation to ban genetically modified organisms last year.

Proponents of the Sonoma County ban actively sought to include the county and the farm industry in crafting the initiative's language. As a result, the Sonoma County proposal is much more flexible than the GMO bans adopted in Mendocino and Marin.

For instance, it would end in 10 years and could be modified by a majority vote of county supervisors, unlike measures passed in Mendocino and Marin with no such provisions.

The proposed Sonoma County ordinance "tried to find some middle ground and made some concessions," said Renata Brillinger, director of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, a coalition formed three years ago to focus on the potential risks of genetic engineering. "This appeals to more people who are concerned, but don't want to go as far as a ban. It's more toward the middle."

Brillinger said she could not comment on Assemblyman Maze's call for statewide guidelines until he proposes specific rules, but she expects the debate is inevitable. Until that happens, county ballot measures will continue, she said.

"People in local communities don't feel represented or protected at the state level," she said.

The biotech industry is shifting its efforts as well.

CropLife America, an industry group representing such biotech giants as Monsanto, Dow and Dupont, was the leading contributor to the campaign that spent more than $600,000 in a losing battle against the GMO ban in Mendocino County last year. But the group will not fight the Sonoma County initiative, spokesman Allan Noe said.

Once ballot measures proposing GMO bans began to proliferate, other stakeholders in California took over the fight, Noe said.

"The rest of the agricultural community is coming to the forefront, like the farm bureau and the commodity organizations," Noe said. "They represent the farmers and growers who stand to lose production tools. Once it started to proliferate, they realized this could be a serious situation."

Last year, engineered crops were grown by 8 million farmers in 17 countries around the world, covering 200 million acres, according to a report issued last month by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a nonprofit supporter of biotechnology.

The amount of acreage devoted to engineered crops jumped 20 percent last year, compared to 2003, and has exploded over the past decade. In 1996, the first year genetically modified crops were commercially available, about 4.3 million acres were under biotechnology cultivation.

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