9 US states limit local control of GM seeds
Language in all the seed bills is apparently noticeably similar. According to Joseph Mendelson, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, "I'm sure that it is organized by big industry players who are fearful that the California strategy (GMO-free initiatives) may spread."
Grassroots activism on genetic engineering in the US has been highly damaging for the biotech industry. In 2004 in Vermont 79 towns passed resolutions against GMOs while the State government passed a groundbreaking seed-labelling bill, the first of its kind in the US. In California in March, voters in Mendocino county passed the first law in the US to ban GMO releases into the environment, despite more than $600,000 pumped into the county by the biotech industry in a massive disinformation campaign. Two other Californian counties have already followed Mendocino despite an aggressive industry fight back using farm bureau proxies.
Now the industry has taken steps to try and make sure local voters don't get the chance to inflict such damage again. But, it seems, even farmers who use GM seed may be worried about the implications of the new legislation, with one warning that the bill will allow unregulated planting and contamination from crops engineered to produce pharmaceuticals.
9 US states limit local GM regs
Ellinghuysen, 30 March 2005
At least nine US states, including Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Dakota, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, and West Virginia have either passed or introduced legislation that would preempt local cities and counties from restricting the sale of genetically modified seeds.
The bills are viewed as a nationally coordinated attempt to block GMO-free ordinances similar to those approved by citizens in Mendocino and Marin counties in California in 2004.
In March, Iowa's House of Representative passed a bill, House File 642, that would preempt "a local governmental entity
from adopting or enforcing legislation which relates to the production, use, advertising, sale, distribution, storage, transportation, formulation, packaging, labeling, certification, or registration of agricultural seed." A similar bill was introduced into the Iowa Senate.
State Representative Sandy Greiner (R-Keota), who introduced HF 642, argued the bill is needed to make seed regulations uniform statewide instead of a "patchwork" of local regulations.
Mona Bond, of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, which lobbied to introduce the bill, said, "The bill is not about GMOs, it’s about seed. Farmers shouldn't be prohibited from growing what they want to grow."
“Legislate by and for the biotechnology industry”
However, opponents say HF 642 aims to protect producers of genetically modified seed. Sate Representative Mark Kuhn, (D-Floyd) called the bill "an attempt to legislate by and for the biotechnology industry." Kuhn said the real issue is the economic damage caused to family farmers by market rejection of GM crops.
State Representative John Whitaker (D-Van Buren) sees the bill as a further erosion of local control over controversial agricultural practices, such as genetically modified crops and hog confinement facilities that raise significant health and environmental concerns.
"Soon, large corporations will be replacing small grain farmers because they can’t compete. This devastates rural communities and Main Streets," said Whitaker.
Roger Lansink, an organic farmer, said, "What if some areas want to establish a GMC free zone for economic advantage? These bills will shout the door to that possibility."
LaVon Griffieon, a farmer who produces GM seed, worries that the bill would allow unregulated planting and contamination from crops engineered to produce pharmaceuticals.
Officials at Vedic City, an Iowa town that has an ordinance requiring the sale of organic food only, also oppose the bill. "We believe very strongly in organic because organic does no harm to the environment," said Mayor Robert Wynne.
Aims to stop GMO-free initiatives
Opponents also charge that the main purpose of the bill is to block GMO-free ballot measures similar to those passed in Mendocino and Marin counties in California last year.
Citizens in those counties enacted local bans on cultivation of GM crops. "What it really is, is an attempt to prevent, in Iowa, what has happened in California, where counties have banned the growing of genetically engineered crops," said Jeffrey Smith, director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, based in Fairfield.
In early March, the House and Senate agricultural committees approved their respective versions of the seed bill, and the full House passed it by 70-27. If the Senate approves the bill, Governor Tom Vilsack is expected to sign it into law.
During a House debate, Kuhn introduced an amendment to the bill that would allow for the creation of "identity preserved" production zones for producing organic and non-GM crops, but the measure was voted down 62-35.
Bills passed in PA, GA, ND; other states enacting legislation
If passed, the Iowa seed bill would be the fourth such legislation passed in the United States. Last December, Pennsylvania passed House Bill 2387, which states, "no ordinance or regulation of political subdivision or home rule municipality may prohibit or in any way attempt to regulate any matter relating to the registration, labeling, sale, storage, transportation, distribution, notification of use or use of seeds."
In February, Georgia passed Senate Bill 87 that prohibits local governments from regulating "seeds." In early March, the North Dakota legislature passed a similar bill, Senate Bill 2277, by a 69 to 25 vote. Ken Bertsch, seed commissioner with the North Dakot State Seed Department, acknowledged that the bill aims to prevent passage of Mendocino-type ordinances. "There is concern that what happened in California could happen here, and that absent this type of legislation there could develop a patchwork of different ordinances that could be difficult to enforce," he said.
Similar seed bills have been introduced and are working their way through legislatures in Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, and West Virginia.
"Organized by big industry players"
Language in all the seed bills is similar, containing words such as "registration, labeling, sale, storage, transportation, use, and notification of use: of seed". NO bills mention "genetically modified," or "biotechnology" though Idaho's House Bill 38 states that local regulations "are often not based on principles or good science," a thinly-veiled reference to Mendocino County's rejection of GM crops.
Does the similar language indicate a coordinated nation wide effort to pass such legislation? Joseph Mendelson, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, thinks so. "I'm sure that it is organized by big industry players who are fearful that the California strategy (GMO-free initiatives) may spread," he said.