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Nations take biotech concerns to trade talks; other news

(Friday, June 3, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. ACGA Criticizes U.S. Biotech Policies
2. ACGA raises concerns over shortsighted U.S. biotech policy
3. Nations take biotech concerns to trade talks
4. Bt10 corn found in Japan
5. Ventria BioScience finds Missouri producers unwelcoming
6. First on-line worldwide register of GM contamination incidents launched
7. Playing God with life
8. Ag Industry Aims to Strip Local Control of Food Supplies
9. China ratifies GMO trade protocol

ACGA Criticizes U.S. Biotech Policies -Group Calls for Improvements

OMAHA (DTN, 06/01/05) -- U.S. biotechnology policies came under fire Monday as the American Corn Growers Association's Chief Executive Larry Mitchell voiced concerns about the way such policies, especially those regarding the labeling and segregation of genetically modified corn, have affected farm incomes.

Mitchell made his comments at a Biosafety Protocol meeting in Montreal, Canada.

"ACGA is not here to state a position on the safety or perils that GM crops pose to our food supply or the environment," he said. "But we are here to state that GM crops are hazardous to the health of our export markets as well as the financial security of America's farm families."

Using its Farmer Choice-Customer First program, ACGA estimates reductions in European exports will cost U.S. farmers 65 cents a bushel in 2005, adding up to more than $7 million in losses this year. ACGA also expects lost export markets to also affect corn gluten and soybeans.

"Our major export customers have spoken, both verbally and with their pocketbooks, and they have been quite clear. They do not want GM food in their countries," Mitchell said. "But for years the U.S. government has administered a biotech policy that fails to segregate traditional corn from GM corn, fails to label the corn so our customers can make a choice, and even takes our best customers to court to force them to buy what they have said they do not want."

"The bottom line is that U.S. biotech policy has ravaged the bottom line of U.S. farm families," Mitchell said and called for reform.

According to the ACGA, "American farmers believe our foreign and domestic customers are always right, even if they may not be right for the real reasons. It is the responsibility of U.S farmers to grow what the customer demands and what the customer will buy."

2. ACGA RAISES CONCERNS OVER SHORTSIGHTED U.S. BIOTECH POLICY: Devastated Export Markets and Low Crop Prices Linked to Failure to Meet Customerís Requirements

MONTREAL ≠ May 30, 2005 ≠ Larry Mitchell, Chief Executive of the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) expressed his organizationís continued and increased concerns over U.S. policy on the segregation and labeling of genetically modified (GM) corn during the second meeting of the Parties to the Biosafety Protocol which convened in Montreal, Canada today.

"ACGA is not here to state a position on the safety or perils that GM crops pose to our food supply or the environment," said Mitchell. "But we are here to state that GM crops are hazardous to the health of our export markets as well as the financial security of Americaís farm families."

"The latest analysis of the American Corn Growers Foundation (ACGF) through their Farmer Choice-Customer First program, finds that the loss of our European export market, previously a large, cash-paying export customer for U.S. corn, will cost our farmers over 65 cents per bushel in 2005 because of U.S biotech policy," stated Mitchell. "That is a projected loss of over $7 billion in this yearís corn crop. More suffering is expected due to losses of export markets for U.S. soybeans and corn gluten."

"Our major export customers have spoken, both verbally and with their pocketbooks, and they have been quite clear. They do not want GM food in their countries," Mitchell said. "But for years the U.S. government has administered a biotech policy that fails to segregate traditional corn from GM corn, fails to label the corn so our customers can make a choice, and even takes our best costumers to court to force them to buy what they have said they do not want."

The Farmer Choice-Customer First program, developed and administered by ACGF, recognizes the uncertainty many farmers are facing over the proliferation of genetically modified crops. Although production agriculture has been generally supportive of agricultural biotechnology, farmers understand that it doesnít help to grow a product that most of our foreign customers refuse to buy. To address the uncertainties over marketability, legal liability, segregation and corporate concentration, Farmer Choice-Customer First provides unbiased, honest and objective information to the nationís corn producers. By having access to this information, farmers can make educated decisions about what varieties of seed to plant and how best to market them.

"The bottom line is that U.S. biotech policy has ravaged the bottom line of U.S. farm families," added Mitchell. "We will lose another $7 billion from this yearís corn crop due to this failed policy. We are also suffering export losses and lower prices for other crops such as soybeans and other corn products such as corn gluten. We lost about the same last year, and have lost markets and money every year since this policy was adopted in the 1990s. U.S. biotech policy must change for the financial health of U.S. farm families."

Farmer Choice-Customer First understands that American farmers believe our foreign and domestic customers are always right, even if they may not be right for the right reasons. It is the responsibility of U.S. farmers to grow what the customer demands and what the customer will buy. U.S. farmers also understand the concerns over on-farm segregation and the burdens that are placed on corn growers when the responsibility for segregating GM crops from traditional crops falls on their shoulders.

Important components of the Farmer Choice-Customer First program are the many surveys done to gauge the thoughts of those involved in this debate. Whether they are corn grower planting intentions, segregation sentiment surveys or grain elevator surveys, the program provides and publicly shares valuable real world data and materials.


3. Nations take biotech concerns to trade talks: Labeling, liability are points of contention with industry

By Bill Lambrecht
Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Midwestern farmers and the biotech industry will be watching as negotiators from the United States and more than 100 other countries gather in Montreal today to set rules for trade in genetically modified products.

Five years after adopting the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety under the U.N. banner, countries are getting down to the difficult decisions of regulating global commerce from a powerful and controversial technology.

The debate during the five-day meeting, like creation of the protocol itself, will be driven by the desires of developing countries to have more control over the movement of genetically engineered products across their borders.

"Countries must have the choice in deciding which GMOs (genetically modified organisms) they want to let in," asserted Juan Lopez of Spain, a Friends of the Earth analyst who is making the case for developing countries.

Meanwhile, the United States and a handful of grain-exporting countries will try to deflect such sentiments while arguing that critical decisions over trade must be left to the World Trade Organization.

Unlike most of the rest of the world, the United States has not ratified the protocol. But American companies and exporters are bound by it, which is why the negotiations this week will be closely watched.

Countries are expected to clash over labeling and documentation of shipments of modified products and seeds and the extent to which segregation is required. Until September, the deadline for adopting the rules, shipments need only be identified by saying they "may contain" modified products.

Many developing countries, supported by environmental groups, argue for separate labeling that provides many details about the source of the materials and type of genetic engineering involved.

But the biotech industry is pushing for minimal documentation, citing the cost to shippers and farmers and the potential for confusion.

"Our position is that standard commercial shipping invoices provide adequate information," said Lisa Dry, spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Association in Washington.

Hamdallah Zedan, the Egyptian who serves as secretary of protocol, described the labeling issue as one of the most contentious that countries are facing in these negotiations.

"The debate centers on the tradeoffs between the usefulness of detailed information in the documentation in handling of GMOs and the costs of assembling such documentation," he said in a statement.

Negotiators also will debate how much genetically engineered material shipments will be able to contain and still be considered "GMO-free," a designation that brings a premium price in global markets.

Developing countries are pushing a liability system that would impose penalties in the event of environmental damage from genetically modified organisms.

Advocates of liability provisions note, for instance, that organic farmers now have no way to recoup their losses if their crops become contaminated with pollen from genetically engineered corn.

The biotech industry contends that no liability system is needed because a decade of plantings of engineered crops has proved that they are safe.

Harvey Glick, Monsanto's director of scientific affairs, is among the industry representatives who planned to travel to Canada for the negotiations.

Gary Niemeyer, who farms near Auburn, Ill., just south of Springfield, said farmers generally support a protocol, even though some worry about some of the rules.

"We need to keep it segregated, know where it is going, and know what percent (of GMOs) are in the shipments," Niemeyer said. He grows corn that is not genetically engineered and sells it in Indonesia for a premium.

4. Bt10 Corn Found in Japan: U.S. working to avoid trade disruption

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones, June 2)-- Japan has found some corn imported from the U.S. containing the unapproved Bt10 genetically modified organism, Japanese and U.S. government officials said Wednesday.

A U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said the U.S. is working with Japan to try to make sure the Bt10 discovery doesn't disrupt trade.

A Japanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Bt10 corn was found "before the custom clearance by inspection" and it won't be allowed to be distributed in Japan.

Switzerland's Syngenta AG announced March 22 that it inadvertently sold a limited amount of the unapproved Bt10 corn seed instead of the approved Bt11 to U.S. farmers who planted it on 37,000 acres from 2001 through 2004.

U.S. government and Syngenta officials have maintained that even though Bt10 was never approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Environmental Protection Agency, it is safe and nearly identical to Bt11 corn, which has been approved in the U.S.

Japan, the largest foreign market for U.S. corn, imported 603.8 million bushels in the 2003-04 marketing year, according to USDA data compiled by the National Corn Growers Association.

Sarah Hull, a spokeswoman for Syngenta, said Wednesday she had received word from Japan that officials there were holding a shipment of U.S. corn at customs after finding Bt10.

Hull said Japan is using a Bt10 testing process that was supplied to the government by Syngenta. And she said that because the Bt10 was detected, "it seems to me that the system has worked (in Japan). They caught it before it got through customs."

Hull stressed that "there's not a food, environment or animal health question with the (Bt10) corn."

5. Ventria BioScience finds Missouri producers unwelcoming

By David Bennett, Delta Farm Press, May 26, 2005

There may be fewer environmentalists to spar with in the Missouri Bootheel, but farmers have proven a formidable substitute. Leaving California for the Show-Me State has yet to yield a grain of pharmaceutical rice for Ventria BioScience. And until the Gordian knot of GM rice and markets is untied, many Missouri rice producers vow to continue fighting the company to protect their businesses.

The latest turn on Ventria's bumpy ride came in late April when, for lack of time to secure permits, the company announced it wouldn't be able to plant in the state this year. That came shortly after the company agreed to move away from the Bootheel entirely. Now, Ventria may shift some of its production to the Southeast, where it has already obtained USDA permission to grow acreage in North Carolina.

A review of the last few months shows a whirlwind of Ventria-inspired activity in the Bootheel.

Market worries

In January, news began to circulate in earnest among Bootheel producers that a genetically modified rice -- a plant-made pharmaceutical (PMP) -- developed by Ventria, would be planted near Chaffee, Mo., on the northern edge of Missouri rice country. The company's rice is engineered to produce proteins found in human saliva, tears and mother's milk. The proteins can be extracted from the rice to make cheaper medicines.

Beginning in April, Ventria planned to grow 150 acres of its rice with the nearest conventional rice field 7 miles distant. That wasn't nearly far enough for those opposing the rice. As the FDA has yet to approve any PMP for human consumption, cross-contamination with conventional rice was the most cited fear. But opponents were fearful even the proximity of pharma-rice to conventional could be a problem.

"Perception is reality," said Sonny Martin, chairman of the Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council, in February. "If those buying our rice even perceive a problem, it could be trouble... In the future, if the markets can be convinced otherwise, fine -- I might grow pharma-rice myself. But, right now, are we really willing to damage -- or even ruin -- our rice markets over this? We could literally be driven out of business by a few acres of this stuff."

Risk versus benefit

Ventria, which had just come to Missouri after a similar controversy in California, said Bootheel worries were overblown. In a written response to Delta Farm Press questions, Scott Deeter, Ventria CEO, explained the benefits of pharma-rice: "Ventria is producing two proteins, lactoferrin and lysozyme -- These proteins have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and iron-binding properties. Ventria is currently developing an oral rehydration solution including lactoferrin and lysozyme to manage diarrhea and dehydration. Ventria believes that the addition of these two proteins to an oral rehydration solution will provide improved management and intestinal protection, not just rehydration of the child. According to the World Health Organization, on a worldwide basis 1.3 million children under the age of five die of acute diarrhea. Ventria utilizes rice and barley to produce these therapeutic proteins and estimates the cost would increase by more than 30 times to produce the same proteins using other systems of production. Plant-made pharmaceuticals have the potential to provide patients with the benefit of greater access to necessary medicines."

David Herbst, the farmer who planned to grow Ventria's rice, said fellow farmers should consider the value-added benefits of biotech projects, at least on a small scale. "China is doing work with GM rice. It's coming, there?s no doubt. What we must decide is whether we want to take advantage of GM rice. We can pass this up and watch a lot of other folks take advantage of the technology. If this opportunity passes, though, I can almost promise you we won't have another come around for a long while."

But market concerns remained the driving concern for most producers.

"If Ventria wants to help people, it's noble," said Martin, who, besides milling, annually farms between 700 and 1,200 acres of rice. "I would never knock that. But how big their heart is isn't what we're worried about. Our focus is on the markets..."

"I've followed rice marketing and trade issues for years," said Bob Papanos, vice president of international programs for the U.S. Rice Producers Association. "Rice farmers are right to be worried. I'm sure farmers recall StarLink and Prodigy in Nebraska. If there's even a hint that Ventria's pharma-rice has contaminated food-grade rice, we're in serious trouble. Actually, foreign trade negotiators can use this against us whether there's contamination or not. This could actually give them leverage in trade talks. And anyone who thinks any fallout could be isolated in the Bootheel doesn't know what they're talking about. Folks overseas don't pay attention to the Missouri/Arkansas border -- they just see one big swath of rice running down through the Delta. That's the way it is."

Environmentalists weigh in

The fight against Ventria's PMPs resulted in several odd alliances, none stranger than that of Bootheel producers and Friends of the Earth (FOE).

In March, Bill Freese, a research analyst with FOE who has written two comprehensive papers regarding Ventria's pharma-rice, said the company had "been all over the map with regard to what they plan to do. They like to talk about saving children but I've also heard them say it will be too expensive for that particular application."

The interest of FOE in the issue wasn't coincidental. Freese said the organization's "afer Foods, Safer Farms" campaign "focuses on our desire for mandatory testing and labeling. We also want bio-tech companies to bear liability when things go wrong, which isn't the case right now."

As of mid-March, Freese believed there was a "good chance Ventria's efforts in the Bootheel can be shut down. The food industry is finally waking up to this -- they haven't been very informed about the situation until now. I believe they'll now begin to exert their influence. That pressure, along with the Bootheel farmers, can stop this."

April hits hard

Freese's words proved prophetic because on April 7 Anheuser-Busch executives met with Missouri Department of Agriculture officials in St. Louis where a "no buy" warning was given. The boycott threat hit hard because Busch is the largest domestic rice purchaser.

"The Busch folks asked the Missouri Agriculture Department director to explain where the state was on this issue," said Paul Combs, a Bootheel farmer who sits on the USA Rice Federation's board of directors and attended the meeting. "In the end, he said the state would give Ventria permission to plant its rice and the state is supportive of the PMP industry and concept."

At that point, said Combs, Busch executives admitted transgenic crops are here to stay and the company isn't opposed to the health benefits such crops could provide.

"But then they hit on their big point: this PMP isn't regarded as safe for the food industry. They drew a distinction between herbicide-tolerant crops and PMPs. Busch's senior executive said, "We aren't trying to tell the state what to do. But if Ventria goes forward, we won't purchase any rice either grown or processed in the state of Missouri. "He said because it's not regarded as safe, Busch would have to recall products if this PMP rice accidentally found its way (into food grade). He made it clear it would cost the company big in terms of money and brand image."

Compromise and revenge

A week later on April 15, Ventria announced it would move its pharmaceutical rice 120 miles from the nearest Bootheel rice field. As a result, Busch officials' concerns were alleviated. The beer giant agreed to continue purchasing rice grown and processed in Missouri.

On news of Ventria's move away from the Bootheel's $95 million rice crop, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt said, "I am pleased that Anheuser-Busch and Ventria have reached a fair compromise that furthers cutting-edge life-sciences technology while protecting current markets for Missouri rice farmers. Biotech companies from around the country, if not the world, are watching our state today, and this agreement sends a clear message that Missouri is a great place for technology."

While that may be true, Ventria won't be growing any pharmaceutical rice in the state this year. The company's rice is a 155-day variety and, as a result, needed permits to plant in a new Missouri location would have come too late in the season.

On hearing of the company's move from the Bootheel, "farmers were very much relieved," said Martin, who remains aggrieved by how producers have been treated by some state politicians.

"We're thankful to Busch because it stood up and tipped this thing," he said in early May. "But what this really showed us is the Bootheel producers won't be listened to. That's it, (our leaders) just don't care. We told (our leaders) and told them and told them we didn't want Ventria here, that the market wouldn't want them either. And plans went right on moving along. Their decision wasn't based on what the producers wanted. The decision to move out of the Bootheel, in the end, was based on what an end user, Busch, wanted. Well, mark my words: the Bootheel will get its revenge come next election. And you can print that."

6. First on-line worldwide register of GM contamination incidents launched today

Montreal/London (UK), June 1, 2005 - GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace International launched the first on-line register of genetically engineered (GE) contamination incidents today ( http://www.gmcontaminationregister.org). The searchable web site gives details of all the known cases of GE contamination of food, animal feed, seeds and wild plants that have taken place worldwide.

"No Government or international agency has yet established a public record of contamination incidents or of other problems associated with GE crops. Turning a blind eye is not good enough when dealing with GE technology because it involves the uncontrolled release of living organisms into the environment," said Dr. Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK's Director. "We hope this register will form an important resource for citizens and regulators in the future."

Since their introduction in 1996, GE crops have contaminated our food, animal feed and seeds across the globe. 62 incidents of illegal or unlabelled GE contamination have been documented in 27 countries on five continents, and those are only the recorded incidents. The register also gives links to more information about the incidents and associated agricultural problems that arise from them.

"This register is being launched at the moment when governments are meeting in Montreal to decide on international liability regulations for GE crops. The sheer number of contamination incidents collected in the register to date makes it clear that unless states take action to set strict rules now, GE crop contamination will further spiral out of control," said Doreen Stabinsky, GE campaigner for Greenpeace International.

"As the recent case of Canadian GE canola contamination in Japan illustrates there is a need for governments to take immediate action," said Eric Darier, GE campaigner for Greenpeace Canada. "Not only has Canada not ratified the Biosafety Protocol but in addition its exports are contaminating the Japanese environment. This new tool will allow Canadians to see the damage that our unchecked GE exports are doing around the world."

Highlights from the register:

  • 27 countries have experienced a total of 62 cases of GM contamination of food, animal feed, seeds or wild plants.
  • The largest number of contamination incidents have taken place in the USA (11 incidents).
  • Contamination from 'Starlink' maize was found in seven countries: USA; Canada; Egypt; Bolivia; Nicaragua; Japan; and South Korea.
  • Illegal releases of GM crops into the environment or food chain have taken place in India (cotton), Brazil (cotton and soya), China (rice), Croatia (maize), Europe, Germany (papaya) and Thailand (cotton and papaya).
  • Six cases of negative agricultural side-effects have been recorded including deformed cotton bolls and the emergence of herbicide tolerant 'super-weeds'.

For more information:

Dr. Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK +44 1298 871898
Doreen Stabinsky, Greenpeace International +1 202 285 7398
…ric Darier, Greenpeace Canada GE campaigner, Cell: (514) 605 6497
Andrew Male, Greenpeace Canada Communications Coordinator, Cell: (416) 880-2757

7. Playing God with life

First there was the seed. Then science gave us the ability to take genes from one species and combine them with a second to create an entirely new species. And so we ask, "Who among is smart enough to play God with life?"

This Saturday at 9AM Pacific, the Food Chain with Michael Olson University of Wisconsin Professor of Rural Sociology Jack Kloppenburg for a conversation about mankinds' relationship with seeds.

(Listen live, or delayed, on your computer at http://www.metrofarm.com )

Topics include how the management of seeds allowed for the development of economy; how biotechnology's ability to create new species from old ones has changed agriculture; and a discussion of who among us is smart enough to decide which species to create.

Listeners are invited to call the program on KFRM, KGET, KGOE, KNTK, KOMY, KSCO, KTIP, KVON, WKKD, TRUTH RADIO and the HEALTH RADIO NETWORK with questions and comments, or log them to the Forum page at www.metrofarm.com.

8. Ag Industry Aims to Strip Local Control of Food Supplies -- Big Food Strikes Back

COUNTERPUNCH, May 26, 2005

Legislation aiming to prevent counties, towns and cities from making local decisions about our food supply is being introduced in states across the nation. Fifteen states recently have introduced legislation removing local control of plants and seeds. Eleven of these states have already passed the provisions into law.

These highly orchestrated industry actions are in response to recent local decisions to safeguard sustainable food systems. To date, initiatives in three California counties have restricted the cultivation of genetically modified crops, livestock, and other organisms and nearly 100 New England towns have passed various resolutions in support of limits on genetically engineered crops.

These laws are industry's stealth response to a growing effort by people to protect their communities at the local level. Given the impacts of known ecological contamination from genetic modification, local governments absolutely should be given the power to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. Local restrictions against genetically modified crops have provided a positive and hopeful solution and allowed citizens to take meaningful action in their hometown or county.

"Over the past several years in Iowa, we've seen local control taken away for the benefit of the corporate hog industry," said George Naylor, an Iowa farmer and President of the National Family Farm Coalition. "With these pre-emption laws signed into law, we are now losing our ability to protect ourselves from irresponsible corporations aiming to control the agricultural seeds and plants planted throughout the state."

According to Kristy Meyer of the Ohio Environmental Council, "The amendment to our House Bill 66 would strip cities and villages of their authority to implement safeguards and standards concerning seeds. Supporting local control is quintessentially American, clearly reasonable, and represents the standards our country was founded upon."

In the past decade, the same preemptive strategy has been used by the tobacco industry to thwart local efforts to introduce more stringent smoking and gun laws, respectively. As Tina Walls of Phillip Morris & Co. admitted, "By introducing preemptive statewide legislation, we can shift the battle away from the community level back to the state legislatures where we are on stronger ground."

Why this challenge to local rights?

Since 2002, towns, cities and counties across the US have passed resolutions seeking to control the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) within their jurisdiction. Close to 100 New England towns have passed resolutions opposing the unregulated use of GMOs; nearly a quarter of these have called for local moratoria on the planting of GMO seeds. In 2004, three California counties, Mendocino, Trinity and Marin, passed ordinances banning the raising of genetically engineered (GE) crops and livestock. Advocates across the country believe that the more people learn about the potential hazards of GE food and crops, the more they seek measures to protect public health, the environment, and family farms. They have come to view local action as a necessary antidote to inaction at the federal and state levels.

Who is behind this strategy of state pre-emption?

State legislators who support large-scale industrial agriculture, and are often funded by associated business interests are introducing these pre-emption bills. Farm Bureau chapters in the various states are key supporters. The bills represent a back-door, stealth strategy to override protective local measures around GMOs.

The industry proposal for a "Biotechnology state uniformity resolution" was first introduced at a May 2004 forum sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC claims over 2000 state legislators as members and has more than 300 corporate sponsors, according to People for the American Way (see Resources). The organization has its origins in the efforts of political strategist and fundraiser Paul Weyrich to rebuild a Republican power base at the federal and state levels in the aftermath of Watergate. Other recent measures supported by ALEC include efforts to deregulate electric utilities, override local pesticide laws, repeal minimum wage laws, limit class action lawsuits and privatize public pensions.

The tobacco industry has mounted similar efforts in recent years to circumvent local ordinances restricting youth access to cigarettes as well as smoking in restaurants, bars, and workplaces. Ironically, many of the interests now promoting state pre-emption have vociferously opposed federal regulations designed to pre-empt weaker state laws.

Why is this a cause for wide public concern?

Local governments have historically overseen policies related to public health, safety, and welfare. Preventing local decision-making contradicts the legitimate and necessary responsibilities of cities, towns, and counties. Traditionally, laws enacted at the state level have set minimum requirements and allowed for the continued passage and enforcement of local ordinances that establish greater levels of public health protection. Preemptive legislation reverses this norm.


  • Pre-emption undermines democracy and local control, and is a threat to meaningful citizen participation around issues of widespread concern. Communities enact local measures as an expression of their fundamental right to shape their future, whereas wealthy corporate interests are far better able to wield power and influence policy in state capitols.
  • Local actions around GMOs, in particular, are designed to address important gaps in federal and state policy, and mitigate potentially serious threats to public health, the environment, and survival of local farm economies.
  • Additionally, some communities are taking a further step, and benefiting economically from the positive effect of becoming known as "GE-Free," supporting farmers and the local food system by promoting organic and sustainable agriculture in their jurisdictions.
  • In recent years, similar local measures have sought to address a variety of industry practices not adequately regulated at higher levels of jurisdiction, including pollution from factory farms, use of sewage sludge as fertilizer, uncontrolled pesticide use, and mismanagement of water resources. The current pre-emption campaign is part of a strategy aimed to weaken all such protective measures; it is part of a well-funded, highly-orchestrated, and frequently stealthy corporate effort to rewrite public policies at all jurisdictional levels.

What are the legal precedents for local action?

According to the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, local measures to restrict the use of GMOs are generally on a sound legal footing:

  • Local rights of self-governance and protection of health, safety and well-being are guaranteed by most state constitutions. Local governments are free to be more protective of their citizens and unique communities than lowest-common-denominator state laws can provide.
  • The federal government does not have specific mandatory safety testing requirements for most GE crops, instead allowing companies to voluntarily determine what tests are needed; also there is virtually no monitoring of commercial GE crops for persistent hazards.

No state has yet enacted comprehensive regulations governing GE crops and livestock that protect public health and the environment.

Historically, American custom and tradition has granted local communities considerable autonomy. Local sovereignty has its foundation in the Town Meetings of colonial New England. While some states have come to view local jurisdictions as creations and agents of the state, others endow municipalities with varying degrees of "home rule," an established legal principle with origins in the 19th century.

Town Meetings and subsequent local decision-making procedures are further rooted in Common Law, which has hinged on the traditional maxim, "Use your property as not to injure another's." Harmful activities affecting the public commons, such as over-cutting timber or spreading noxious weeds, have traditionally been restricted in the name of the greater public good.

Resources on Pre-emption and GMOs

For a continually updated tracking of seed pre-emption legislation, see http://www.environmentalcommons.org/gmo-tracker.html

Michael E. Libonati, "Local Government," from Subnational Constitutions and Federalism: Design and Reform Conference, Center for State Constitutional Studies, Rutgers University, March 2004, available at http://www.environmentalcommons.org/locgov.pdf

People for the American Way profile of ALEC: http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=6990 .

Karen Olsson, "Ghostwriting the Law," Mother Jones, September 2002, at http://www.motherjones.com/news/outfront/2002/09/ma_95_01.html .

County Ban on the Planting of Genetically Engineered Crops: Background on Legal Authority, Center for Food Safety, March 2004, at http://www.environmentalcommons.org/CFSlegal.pdf

New England local measures on GMOs: http://www.nerage.org . California counties: http://www.calgefree.org .

Margaret Mellon and Jane Rissler, Gone to Seed: Transgenic Contaminants in the Traditional Seed Supply, Union of Concerned Scientists, February 2004, at http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release.cfm?newsID=382 .

Charles M. Benbrook, Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Nine Years, BioTech InfoNet Technical Paper Number 7, October 2004, at http://www.biotech-info.net/technicalpaper7.html .

Richard Caplan, Raising Risk: Field Testing of Genetically Engineered Crops in the US, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, April 2005, at http://uspirg.org/reports/Raising%20Risk%202005%20Final.pdf

GRAIN, "Farmers' Privilege Under Attack," at http://www.grain.org/briefings/?id=121

Britt Bailey works with Environmental Commons and Brian Tokar works at the Institute for Social Ecology. They can be reached at: briant@sover.net

9. China Ratifies GMO Trade Protocol

Date Posted: 5/20/2005

BBC Monitoring International Reports via NewsEdge Corporation : Beijing, 19 May: China has ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which regulates international trade of genetically modified organisms (GMO), the State Environmental Protection Administration SEPA) announced Thursday (19 May).

The Cartagena protocol obliges exporters to give greater information to recipient nations about GMO products. It also gives importers the power to reject GMO imports or donations - even without scientific proof - if they might pose a danger to traditional crops and indigenous societies.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, became effective in September 2003 and has been ratified by 120 countries.

"The ratification of the protocol demonstrates China's commitment to enhancing management on biosafety in line with international law," said Wan Bentai, director of SEPA's Natural Ecosystem Department.

He said the ratification will also promote the country's legislation on the topic, strengthen its management of GMO cross-border movement, improve GMO labelling system and promote public involvement in biosafety.

"China is drafting a law on GMO safety in order to better implement the protocol," Wan said.

Despite that there has been much progress in GMO research since 1980s, China still has many loopholes in its biosafety management, including ineffective supervision in the face of growing import of GMO products.

Biotechnology broadly relates to the transfer of genes from one organism to another, giving the recipient favourable characteristics. For instance, biotechnology can be used to protect crops from pests and diseases or to make them grow faster.

Some types of tomatoes and strawberries have been modified by a gene from a cold water fish to protect the plants from frost. Opponents say such practices risk damaging the environment and increasing the risks of species loss.

Wan said that the ratification of the protocol is also part of the country's efforts to conserve biodiversity which is under serious threat. He pledged that the SEPA will take more concrete steps in the regard.

Source: Xinhua news agency, Beijing, in English 1246 gmt 19 May 05