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North Dakota Farmers Union convention delegates call for Veneman to resign, support moratorium on biotech wheat commercialization

by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor

(Thursday, Dec. 19, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- A majority of the 700 people on the floor of the North Dakota Farmers Union convention last week approved a resolution calling for Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman to resign. They called for a moratorium on the commercial release of genetically engineered wheat, and for a congressional investigation of the commodity marketing system.

On the issue of the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary, "the sentiment has been that she is not a good leader, a good agriculture advocate," said Robert Carlson, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union.

Specifically, the membership thinks she's lacking in four areas, he said.

1. She was not supportive of work earlier this year on the new Farm Bill.

2. During work on the bill, she invited the Canadian agriculture minister to lobby against it.

3. In September, during Senate debate and eventual approval of $5.6 billion for drought relief, Veneman wrote to all the senators and asked them to oppose the bill.

4. She lowered the loan rates that the Farm Bill had established for minor oilseeds -- canola, flax and sunflowers. Carlson noted that Veneman recently raised the rates on canola and sunflowers, but those on flax are still lagging behind what the Farm Bill called for.

"There was nothing personal," about the resolution, Carlson said.

The convention delegates also retained a call for a moratorium on the commercial release of genetically modified wheat; the organization supports continued research.

The 34,000-member Farmers Union state chapter wants to see three issues resolved before commercialization, he said.

1. It's marketability to foreign customers is questionable. Half of the Hard Red Spring Wheat the state's farmers produce is exported, mostly to the European Union and to Japan. They don't want transgenic wheat.

2. Segregating Monsanto's Roundup Ready wheat could be difficult. "There is no such thing in this country anymore as non-gmo corn because we can't segregate it," he said. "We don't want the same thing to happen with wheat."

3. In the event of contamination, who is liable?

A clear majority voted to retain the call for a moratorium on commercialization. "But there was a noticeable minority against it," he said. Some of those who opposed the resolution are members of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association. It has come out against any moratorium legislation, according to a an August 15 news release, available at http://www.ndmarketmanager.org/ndgga/press/08-15-02.html

The delegates also resolved that, according to a Farmers Union press release, Congress should investigate the "commodity marketing system, including how the quantity of world stocks are determined and why the recent dramatic declines in commodity prices occurred."