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Calif. biotech crop initiative debated

(Saturday, Aug. 14, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- AnnMarie Cornejo, San Luis Obispo Tribune, 08/11/04:
Local business leaders, environmentalists, farmers and Cal Poly faculty heard arguments Tuesday on both sides of a November ballot initiative that would prohibit growing genetically engineered crops in the county.

Ryan Rich, an Atascadero organic fruit and vegetable farmer, argued that genetically engineered products could potentially contaminate adjacent crops and that consumers want crops that are not genetically modified.

"It poses a direct threat to the future of agriculture," said Rich, one of four panelists participating in the hourlong debate sponsored by the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. More than 40 people attended the gathering.

But opponents of the initiative said genetically engineered crops are safe and regulated by three government agencies -- the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. Moreover, they said, banning genetically engineered crops would limit scientific and medical research and the ability of San Luis Obispo biotechnology businesses to thrive.

"It will harm the local economy," said Lauren Brown, president of Promega Biosciences in San Luis Obispo. "It will limit new jobs and the ability for businesses to compete."

The initiative was prompted by a biotechnology company's proposal to grow rice engineered with human genetic material in San Luis Obispo and nine other counties. The state denied the proposal because the company did not have a permit from the federal government, which is responsible for regulating genetically engineered foods.

A group called SLO GE Free gathered more than 12,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Mendocino County already has a GE crop ban in place. Butte and Humboldt counties also have similar initiatives on the November ballot.

Source: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/mld/sanluisobispo/business/9371564.htm