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Farmers, activists urge passage of GE-seed bill

(Monday, March 1, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Tim McCahill, Associated Press, 02/26/04: MONTPELIER - Farmers and activists took their concerns over genetically engineered crops to the Statehouse Thursday, calling on lawmakers to pass three bills related to the labeling and use of such crops in Vermont.

The rally of around 100 people on the front steps of the Statehouse was organized to coincide with testimony by officials from Monsanto, one of the world's largest distributors of agricultural products, to the House Agriculture Committee on genetically engineered crops and seeds.

The testimony and the protest outside were the latest chapters in what has been a charged debate in the Statehouse recently over the use, and the potential implications of using, genetically engineered organisms in Vermont.

Such organisms are typically plants that contain genetic material from other species such as bacteria. The process is different from crossbreeding in which plants within the same species are bred.

Currently there are three bills related to the use of these organisms in front of lawmakers.

One that would mandate that all genetically engineered organisms sold in the state be labeled and registered passed in the Senate last year but is awaiting action in the House.

Another would allow organic farmers whose crops cross-pollinate with another farmer's genetically engineered crops to sue the seed maker. That proposal has received the support of the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where testimony was taken on the bill Wednesday.

At issue Thursday was a third bill that would put a two-year moratorium on the use of all genetically engineered crops in Vermont.

The bill is supported by activists and some farmers, who argue that more time is needed to study the effects of genetically modified crops on seed varieties and human health.

"I feel we're at a crossroads in agriculture here in Vermont," said Troy farmer Dexter Randall, 58. "We need to take a time out on GMOs (genetically modified organisms)."

Similar concerns were echoed by some members of the agriculture committee as they grilled Monsanto officials on the safety and testing process of genetically modified seeds and crops.

"Organic farmers will lose their crop when (genetically modified) pollen hits their corn," said Rep. Floyd Nease, D-Johnson. "They lose their ability to sell the crop."

Floyd was referring to national standards that forbid any organic crop from containing elements of genetically modified organisms.

Dr. Harvey Glick, Monsanto's director of scientific affairs, told lawmakers that organic farms and farms that use genetically modified crops or seeds can build buffer zones to reduce the possibility of cross-pollination.

He also assured the committee that genetically modified organisms are rigorously tested by Monsanto scientists before hitting the market.

But Glick's assurances did not seem to convince the rally-goers, many of whom tried to sit in on the testimony but could not fit inside the committee room. The hearing was halted briefly and moved to a larger room to accomodate the crowd.

"We demand to be heard," said Jim Moulton of GE Free Vermont, a group that opposes genetic engineering, in an interview outside of the committee room. "The whole world is watching us."

Speaking at his weekly press conference, Gov. James Douglas questioned the constitutionality of the moratorium on genetically modified seeds and crops.

"I'm not persuaded of the need for them," said Douglas of the bills calling for the moratorium and registration of genetically modified organisms sold in the state. "I support the growth of organic farming, but we can't do it at the expense of our traditional farmers."

Source: http://timesargus.com/Local/Story/79512.html