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Calif. biotech ban measures; European Commission pushes to approve more GMOs

(Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Two GMO articles below.

1. Butte biotech allies hold home-grown funding edge

Mike Lee, Sacramento Bee, 10/07/04:
OROVILLE - Without taking money from biotech companies, Butte County farmers have raised more than $102,000 to defeat a November ballot measure that would ban biotech crops, according to financial records released Wednesday.

The movement's home-grown cash means anti-biotech forces have lost the chance to cast the debate as corporate outsiders vs. family farmers.

"The support in agriculture to oppose this measure is unprecedented in politics in Butte County," said Oroville olive grower Jamie Johansson. "You see ag group leaders who couldn't share a cup of coffee coming together on this issue."

Supporters of Measure D have raised $15,251. Their largest donation - $10,000 from the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association - is the only major gift from out of state reported by either side.

The big question now is whether the appeals of anti-biotech forces can overcome their opponents' substantial fund-raising edge. That feat was accomplished earlier this year by anti-biotech activists in Mendocino County, who successfully sponsored the nation's first biotech crop ban and spawned copycat efforts statewide.

"Mendocino ... proved that it can be done," said Scott Wolf, spokesman for Citizens for a GE-Free Butte.

Anti-biotech measures are on the Nov. 2 ballot in four counties - Humboldt, Marin, San Luis Obispo and Butte - but Butte is widely considered to be the most significant. If a county in the heart of production farming rejects genetic engineering, it likely would slow development of high-tech crops in a state that prides itself on innovation.

Some California farmers would like to see genetically engineered crops gain more acceptance in key world markets before they are widely planted here. But many also say it's foolish to reject a technology that could eventually wean farmers from dependence on a suite of toxic chemicals.

Biotech critics question the human and environmental safety of genetically engineered foods, which are pieced together in ways not possible in nature. Their argument in farm-friendly counties, such as Butte, is that consumers in Asia and Europe are skeptical about biotech, and it doesn't make sense to offend buyers by introducing controversial products.

Despite Butte's significance, it's unlikely Measure D will come close to matching the money spent on Mendocino's March measure. Biotech companies put up more than $600,000 to fight the nation's first biotech ban. Partly because of anti-corporate sentiment in the liberal county, Mendocino voters approved the biotech ban, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Instead of letting companies be the defenders of biotech promise in the Sacramento Valley, farmers have taken over - a move that even opponents concede was savvy.

Virtually all of the No on D money - more than 100 donations total - came from Butte County farmers, ranchers and farm companies.

"We don't need it," Johansson said of corporate money.

Financial records show that the Butte County Farm Bureau put up $35,000 to defeat Measure D - by far the largest of all Measure D donations reported to date. Farm Bureaus in the nearby counties of Glenn, Shasta and Placer also donated money.

The well-stocked war chest has allowed Measure D opponents to plant signs that say "Food Not Politics" along Highways 99 and 70 in the county, where about 116,000 residents are registered to vote.

"We are defining what the issue is," said Johansson, spokesman for the Citizens for Accountable Agriculture, which opposes Measure D. "We are not going to have it defined for us."

In recent weeks, both sides have sponsored visits by national speakers, and both have churned out a flurry of press releases.

Since July, supporters of the biotech ban have reported seven contributions of $100 or more. They report less than $2,650 in cash going into the campaign homestretch, compared to more than $57,000 left in opponents' account.

Wolf said donations are relatively meager because the group's lead fund-raiser - a wine grape farmer - is consumed with the harvest.

Still, he remains hopeful that new donations in coming days will spark the campaign and attract what he views as a large contingent of undecided residents.

2. EU seen on course to approve more gene foods
by: Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS, Sept 30 (Reuters) - The European Union's executive arm will open the door to imports of more genetically modified (GMO) foods over the next 12 months despite deep divisions among the EU's 25 member states over the whole issue of biotechnology, diplomats say.

The EU's quirky process for taking decisions means the rifts among national governments make it easy for the executive Commission to apply the rubber stamp to GMO applications.

"The European Commission has it quite easy. They know they can push these things out and wait for (EU ministers) to fail to give an opinion," one diplomat said.

The EU's de facto five-year ban on GMOs was removed in May this year by legal default.

All avenues had already been explored since 1998 to find a political consensus among states opposed to gene crops and those in favour, leaving the executive finally to step in and decide.

In May the Commission used its legal powers to lift Europe's GMO ban by approving a biotech canned maize. A second default authorisation is expected in late October.

Keen to see more approvals, the Commission recognises that the law is working in its favour but it also seeks political backing from EU states.

Some positions within the old EU-15 have also altered and while the bloc's 10 new joiners have now taken part in three GMO votes, the balance of opinion is still very murky.

"It's not necessarily heading to be more "anti" but over the coming months, people's true sentiments will become clearer," the diplomat said.

"You can't predict what people are going to say. There have been strange votes where people have changed their mind."

Since December, the EU has seen seven GMO votes. Very few countries can boast a consistent voting record.

Of the old EU-15, only Finland and the Netherlands have approved each time, although Britain, Ireland and Sweden have usually shown strong support for opening EU borders to new GMOs.

Austria, Denmark, Greece and Luxembourg are consistently opposed, while Germany has always abstained due to internal ministry differences. Since its new govermment came into power earlier this year, Spain has also abstained.

Although the blocking effect of the pro-moratorium countries has not entirely vanished, the group is now a lot weaker with a number of formerly GMO-sceptic countries such as France and Italy changing their positions in recent months.

"Even France is in favour of GMO rapeseed, as we saw at the vote in June," said Adrian Bebb, GMO campaigner at environmental group Friends of the Earth Europe.

The signs are not much clearer from the EU's 10 new joiners, mostly from central and eastern Europe, who have been able to take part in three GMO votes since joining the bloc in May. The most influential of these is Poland, but Warsaw's track record has been one vote in favour, one against and one abstention. The most consistent voters in this group so far have been Cyprus, Hungary, Lithuania and Malta - all voting against.