Important news and actions from the US:
1.HELP STOP MONSANTO'S ATTACKS ON FARMERS - *SUPPORT AB541*
2.Maine Farmers Gain New Protections From Biotech Crops
3.Shedding some light on Montville's crop ban
4.Farmer protests 'death of safe agriculture in the United States'
5.Group proposes new GMO ordinance in California County
6.Finely Aged, Well Engineered
7.AB 541 - Genetic Engineering in Agriculture
1.HELP STOP MONSANTO'S ATTACKS ON FARMERS - SUPPORT AB541
The bill AB541 is going to the California legislature and would set a precedent for the rest of the nation in terms of offering farmers some protection from intimidation by Monsanto.
AB 541 levels the playing field for farmers accused by Monsanto and others of contract violations, and discourages Monsanto's practice of sampling crops without explicit permission from farmers and then prosecuting based on unverifiable testing results. If put into law, AB541 might start a trend in other states. It is now in the California Senate and then, if it passes, will go in front of the Governor!
2.Maine Farmers Gain New Protections From Biotech Crops
Thanks to everyone who took action! The bill is on its way to the Governor!
Protect Maine Farmers, April 10 2008
In an historic move this Tuesday, the Maine House of Representatives took the final step on a controversial bill that would provide Maine's farmers with new protections and assurances when they choose to grow crops that have been genetically engineered. This groundbreaking effort on the part of the Maine Legislature comes after nearly a year and a half of dialogue and compromise amongst many of the key players in Maine's agricultural economy.
Originally brought forth by Rep. Jim Schatz of Blue Hill, working closely with the Protect Maine Farmers campaign, a statewide grassroots effort of Food for Maine's Future to defend and promote small diversified family farms, the final version of the bill is being lauded by all players as a significant step forward in genetic engineering policy at the state level. The Senate version of the bill which was accepted by the House of Representatives on Tuesday has three important components, but lacks a fourth that was added as an amendment by the House last week. The final version of the bill prevents lawsuits for patent infringement against farmers who unintentionally end up with genetically engineered material in their crops, ensures lawsuits that do occur will be held in the state of Maine, and directs the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources to develop and implement Best Management Practices for Genetically Engineered Crops.
The House amendment which the Senate failed to adopt earlier this week would have added to the bill a requirement for all companies selling genetically engineered seeds in the state to report their annual aggregate sales data to the Commissioner of Agriculture. House sponsor of this amendment Representative Benjamin Marriner Pratt of Eddington said, 'While I am pleased with the step forward that we have taken here, I know that we have more work to do to ensure that policymakers have all the information they need to make good decisions in the future. We are only going to see more genetically engineered crops commercialized in this state. The amendment would have allowed us to be alerted to these new developments and keep our policy up to date with the conditions on the ground.'
The final version of the bill is parallel to existing law in other states around the country, including North and South Dakota and Indiana. Legislation in these states was initiated after farmers were sued by biotechnology companies for allegedly stealing their technology by saving seed that had crossed with varieties containing the companies patented material. Logan Perkins of Protect Maine Farmers who has been working to help pass this bill said, 'Maine's farmers now have some substantial assurance that if they save seed that has been contaminated by genetically engineered varieties, they are not at risk for a lawsuit.'
Organic dairy farmers who are saving corn seed in the state share this relief, but also are looking for more protection. Spencer Aitel of Two Loons Farm in South China said, 'Its good to know that I won't be sued for saving my seeds, but I would like to see a way to make the companies take responsibility for the losses this technology can cause when it contaminates my crops, maybe next year the legislature can work on that.'
Perkins also lauded the upcoming implementation of Best Management Practices for these crops. 'Until now farmers had to follow Best Management Practices for spreading manure, a practice in use on farms for thousands of years, yet there were no regulations for genetically engineered crops, a technology only a few years old. Hopefully, the development of these Best Management Practices will give farmers the information they need to make good decisions about how to protect themselves, their livelihoods and their neighbors when using genetically engineered crops,' she said.
While the debate on genetically engineered crops is far from over, with this legislation Maine has moved one step toward a good and fair policy on this contentious issue.
3.Shedding some light on Montville's crop ban
Morning Sentinel, 10 APRIL 2008
I am writing in response to the April 1 article, 'Natural Crops Boosted-Montville residents vote to ban genetically modified plants.'
The article reported: 'The few Montville farmers currently growing the engineered crops are required to register with the code enforcement officer while phasing out use over the next two years.'
If one refers Montville's GMO ordinance one will find it is actually the health officer who oversees the reporting and phase out of these crops. The ordinance reads:
'Within thirty (30) days of the enactment of this Ordinance, a grower using GMO seeds must sign an agreement with the Health Officer that the phase-out process has begun. As they continue to grow GMO crops during the phase out period, the grower must register with the Health Officer the number of acres, seed variety or number, and seed source of GMO crops still under cultivation.'
While your article focused on the farming aspect of GMO crops, your readers should know it was concern for human health and the possible effects of genetically engineered foods on our bodies and our food system that motivated people in Montville to develop this ordinance.
This detail is critically important, as it confirms the spirit of the ordinance. Hopefully Montville's action will serve to engage the public in a dialogue about how these foods entered our food system -- and, in fact, our homes -- without our rightful consent.
Diana George Chapin
4.Farmer protests 'death of safe agriculture in the United States'
Subject: reply to Prarie Star letter
First I would start my comment with the fascination I have for the science of GM. That we can manipulate a living organism and recreate it as if we were GOD, is simply amazing, and frightening.
I do not think we have enough scientific knowledge in our entire collective world to know what the outcome of genetically combining different species as the GM industry is doing. This scares the heck out of me.
I have had to destroy crops of heirloom, open polliinated varieties that became contaminated from a neighbor who had a seed companies advertising plot next to my farm. Of the 40 plus varieties in this plot, 1/3 were genetically modified. I received no compensaton for my loss, in fact I was told effectively, tough luck, don't plant near us so your heirloom variety won't contaminate us. Poor way to treat your neighbors.
I have farmed my land for 26 years. I will soon be forced to stop production due to the death of safe agriculture in the United States. This death is caused entirely by the GM industry and the dangerous 'products' creates without regard to other people. One would think product liability laws would protect others from this dangerous science, but that is a mistaken belief.
The GM industry and those who grow GM crops are simply selfish people who want control of the world food supply.
As a grower of crops, same industry as the original writer all I can say is that I feel sorry for your position Mr. Kjesbo. The GM industry has our farming industry upside down with problems. They have created these problems by choice and by design.
If we only take the contractual issue of GM crops it is obvious that the seed and chemical companies are looking only for control of the food production industry. Why else would a contract with the farmer be needed? Why would a farmer trap themselves into a contract?
Once signed, the company owns the farmer and his production. Those farmers dabbling with GM food crops have been contractually bound to the large corporation much the same as a serf was bound to the King and a slave to his master.
I can no longer grow a safe food crop in our country because of the contamination created by GM crops.
I don't want to fight fellow farmers, but this war of our survival is just what the GM companies want. If Mr. Kjesbo, as a fellow farmer, can promise that should his genetically modified crop contaminate my crop, I will recieve compensation for my loss and more importantly the recovery of my heirloom seed variety to its original state of life, then, by all means, continue your contract with your King/Master.
I know, as do the GM companies, that no one, not the farmer, not the consumer, nor the producer of the GM product you choose to use can protect other crops from genetically contaminating another mans dream.
Until that technology is available, please have the honest decency to protect others from your choice of producing your income.
Thank you for a few moments of your time. Good luck with your spring planting. Enjoy the spring peepers. And most importantly, consider the action your growing methods will have on our small world. We have only one chance to make an impact. Make it positive.
With warmest regards,
Donald D. Dunklee
5.Group proposes new GMO ordinance
Written by Elizabeth Larson
Lake County News, 6 April 2008
LAKE COUNTY A new effort has been launched to regulate genetically modified materials known more commonly as GMOs in Lake County.
BOX: GMO regulations sprout up around the state
Measures regulating GMOs are in force in a handful of communities around California, with many of them gaining traction in 2004.
In March of that year, Mendocino County led the way, establishing the first county-level rules forbidding GMOs in the nation.
The Trinity County Board of Supervisors passed a similar measure on genetically engineered crops in August of 2004.
In November 2004, Marin County followed when its voters approved not allowing GMO to be grown that county.
The Arcata City Council adopted a measure to prevent GMOs on Nov. 17, 2004, according to its city code. Point Arena chose to ban GMOs within the city limits in 2004, the city reported.
While 2004 saw the first victories for GMO opponents, voters rejected regulations in three other counties Butte, Humboldt and San Luis Obispo, according to information compiled by the University of California.
The following year, the Lake County Board of Supervisors voted down instituting a 30-month waiting period before allowing Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa into the county.
No other such efforts to regulate GMOs succeeded until June of 2006. That's when the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors approved a GE crop moratorium, saying the measure would remain in effect until the state adopted regulations that would protect the state, according to county documents.
Also in 2006, the state Senate voted down a Monsanto-backed bill by state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) that would have preempted local GM regulation decisions. The bill was opposed by groups including California Certified Organic Growers.
Recently, Monterey County citizens have taken a GM regulation proposal, based on one adopted in Santa Cruz, to the county for consideration, according to county officials.
Lake County News research
The newly drafted proposed ordinance by the Coalition for Responsible Agriculture was expected to go before the Board of Supervisors on April 22. Instead, a discussion on genetically engineered agriculture has been scheduled for 1:35 p.m. on Tuesday, May 6, according to the clerk to the Board of Supervisors. No action is scheduled to take place at that time.
This is the second time such a proposal has been made to county government.
In 2005 the Coalition for Responsible Agriculture a group of Lake County farmers, activists and organizations led an effort to impose a 30-month moratorium on Roundup Ready alfalfa, which the US Department of Agriculture had deregulated earlier that year.
That original ordinance also required that the location of test plots of GMO materials be revealed by the organization and institutions using them, as Lake County News has reported.
The Board of Supervisors voted down the proposed ordinance in October 2005.
However, since the Board of Supervisors turned down the local ordinance, a federal court case resulted in the re-regulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa last spring.
The ruling prevented plantings of the crop after March 2007 until USDA completes a full environmental impact study, which could take several years to complete. It also imposes a number of other stipulations, including the requirement that Roundup Ready alfalfa be labeled by lots and that any equipment used must be cleaned if slated for use with non-GMO hay.
That action against GMO alfalfa left local activists feeling vindicated, said Sarah Ryan, president of Lake County Healthy Environment and Life (HEAL), one of the Coalition for Responsible Agriculture's member organizations that played an active part in the 2005 ordinance.
She added that the court action taken against GM alfalfa showed that the coalition's concerns about the materials weren't an 'eco-fantasy.'
The coalition has come back with a broader proposal in mind, which won't just seek to regulate alfalfa but all genetically engineered crops.
Ryan notes, however, that not all coalition members who supported the original ordinance support the newest incarnation. The effort is starting anew, seeking new endorsements for its current effort.
Chuck March, executive director of the Lake County Farm Bureau, said the group opposed that 2005 ordinance because the California Farm Bureau is opposed to any localized ordinance on GMOs, believing that they should be controlled at either a state or federal level.
March said GMOs are a 'tool and an option' for growers.
Farm Bureau also is opposed to any type of GMO crop registration for growers, said March. Not only is it extra work, but it also has led to vandalism and protests at farms where the crops are grown.
Attorney Steve Elias, who helped draft the ordinance, said acting now against GMOs is important, because it's early enough to save a GMO-free brand for the county, which will give area farmers a competitive advantage.
The presence of the materials, said Ryan, doesn't just hurt agriculture, but the whole environment.
Ryan, who also serves as Big Valley Rancheria's environmental director, said GMOs require increased pesticide use.
Looking at Lake County's unique and protected geography, Elias said, 'We truly can say we don't get drift from anywhere.'
During a recent trip up to the top of Mt. Konocti, Elias said he got a sense of how isolated the county truly is.
'We're just unlike any other county around,' he said.
'We have a community of people who want to support the farmers here,' Elias said, pointing to the county's efforts to promote economic development and agritourism.
With concerns about the environment clean water, air and soil taking a stand against contamination against GMOs makes sense to coalition members.
Not only would the new ordinance regulate all GMOs, but Elias said it would include stiff penalties for anyone breaking the new rules. Specifically, it calls for a 30-day incarceration period for anyone caught using the materials.
When considering the possible impacts on the environment, what seems like a severe measure is justifiable, Elias explained.
'There are so many things that aren't OK about GE crops,' he added.
He said breaking the regulations would be an act of 'eco-terrorism.'
'We had to explain to the world that we're real serious about this,' he said.
There is a concern by coalition members that GMO crops may already have been introduced in some form in the county.
March said that's his understanding as well, that GMOcrops entered the county in 2006 and 2007. He said he's spoken with local seed distributors who confirmed that, although his request to Monsanto for more information has not been answered.
The University of California Cooperative Extension Office has examined the ordinance, said March. 'It's very broad and vague, and could cover even normal hybridization.'
Greg Giusti of the local University of Cooperative California Extension Office confirmed that a colleague looked over an earlier draft of the ordinance, in an effort to determine how it could be interpreted on a scientific basis.
'It's our role to try to give objective interpretations of the language,' he said.
In the early draft, Giusti said a strict interpretation would prohibit traditional plant breeding.
However, coalition members argue that the proposal enables the Board of Supervisors to approve GMO crops on a one-time basis, and it doesn't cover hybridization.
The California Farm Bureau has been working with groups such as the Center for Food Safety and California Certified Organic Farmers on the state level on Assembly Bill 541, by Assemblyman Jared Huffman.
That bill, which continues to work its way through the state Legislature, is supposed to give farmers added protection from corporate lawsuits if GMO crops are found to have spread to their property.
March said the feeling was that the bill had alleviated concerns about GMOs.
'I guess we're a little bit disappointed that all of this pops up now,' he said. 'We've been at the table, trying to work on something statewide.'
Ryan said coalition members were serious about the ordinance in 2005, and they're serious about it now.
'We're talking about what Lake County is going to be,' she said.
6.Finely Aged, Well Engineered
By Matthew Lickona
San Diego Reader, April 2 2008
Erica Martenson is not a scientist. Rather, she is a gardener. In her big backyard in Napa, she says, she has 'several fruit trees and a small area where I have a vegetable garden. At this point, I can grow pretty much what I need for the year ”” I dry my fruit, and I can things.'
Until 2005 or so, one of her homegrown crops was soybeans, 'for edamame. Then I saw an article that mentioned something about genetically engineered soy, and I started wondering if my soybeans could be genetically engineered. I started doing some research and found that even organic seed companies like Seeds of Change can’t guarantee anymore that their soybeans are GE-free. There's too much contamination ”” partly through cross-pollination, but also because there's so much consolidation now within the seed supply. Sometimes even the organic seed supply is contaminated. So I stopped growing soybeans, and that's how I got introduced to the whole issue ”” not being able to grow something that I wanted to grow. It’s one of those issues that a lot of people don’t know about, but once you do know about it, you tend to have a strong feeling about it.'
It’s a pretty strong word, 'contaminated' ”” the sort usually reserved for poisoned water supplies and the like. Martenson isn’t trying to be alarmist, only to indicate that GE foodstuffs have a way of insinuating themselves into the general food supply. But she is concerned. 'I’m concerned about the health aspect. There hasn’t been a single peer-reviewed study to prove that GE foods are safe, for example. There are no safety tests required by the government. Most of the developers’ own studies have not been made public. A German court recently forced Monsanto to make one of its studies public, and it showed that there were problems with the lab animals. And there have been independent studies that have pointed to problems. There have been studies of GE yeast that showed ”” and this is a problem with GE in general ”” that inserting the foreign genes disrupts the genome. It can cause unexpected changes in the yeast ”” change its metabolism, cause toxicity or allergenicity. I think the way the whole GE thing has unfolded has been very unscientific. There’s been a lot of propaganda saying that this is going to solve people’s problems, that it’s progress, and that if you’re against it, then you’re a Luddite.'
Martenson mentioned yeast in particular because she drinks wine, because she lives in Napa, and because there are currently two GE yeasts on the market for use in wine production. (One unites alcoholic and malolactic fermentations to reduce production of the biogenic amines that cause headaches in some people. The other degrades urea and so reduces the production of ethyl carbamate, a substance found to exhibit carcinogenic activity in laboratory animals, though Martenson points out that the substance has not been shown to cause cancer in humans and that 'wine has other properties that seem to counter those carcinogenic effects.' Martenson is not pro-headache/pro-cancer, but neither is she confident in the biotech industry’s assurances and disinterest.) She also mentions it because it’s a local issue. 'There are lots and lots of groups that are working on this at the international and national level. I decided I wanted to do something locally ”” there’s so much corporate influence at the national level, and there wasn’t anything happening here in our county.'
The result was PINA: Preserving the Integrity of Napa's Agriculture. PINA's website identifies the group as 'a grassroots organization comprised of diverse individuals from Napa County' who 'share the belief that genetically modified organisms pose a serious risk to our health”¦and that they threaten our environment, economy, and consumers’ rights”¦No GMOs should be introduced into Napa County until a regulatory system is in place.'
'Our focus is education,2 adds Martenson. 'There are field tests going on all over the country, and nobody knows where they are. We've been doing lots of film showings and presentations' ”” things like the documentary Future of Food - 'and are just trying to open up a dialogue with the whole community. Including the wine industry. We work through organizations. We went to the Native Plant Society and asked, ‘Would you be interested in sponsoring a film?' That way we bring in all of their members and people interested in native plants.' So far, with winegrowers, 'It's been more sharing conversations. I know the grape growers have had two forums on GE grapes, but that was more for the industry.'
And the response? Martenson goes into hopeful mode: 'Um, positive. There are conversations happening. I think the wine industry here has always been very good about working with the community to solve problems that affect the industry and the environment and to find creative solutions. We have a long history of doing that, and I hope this will be the same way. I think there's an image and reputation issue. There's no labeling law here now that says you have to say if your product is GE, but that could change very quickly. The Food Policy Institute, a research unit of Rutgers University, conducted a poll in 2003 that revealed that 94 percent of American consumers want GE food labeled. Both presidential candidates on the Democratic side have said they support mandatory labeling, as does independent candidate Ron Paul. It's a health and safety issue; since GE foods aren't labeled, any health problems associated with them are impossible to trace. In Europe, there are already strict labeling laws, and even though there's no ban on GE foods, nobody wants to market products as GE because they won't sell. Here, the whole GE thing has been very stealth, but I think producers here have to look forward. It would be very difficult, I think, for them to go the GE route and not lose something as far as their image and market share.'
PINA is after a moratorium on GE products in Napa County; in the meantime, Martenson will settle for bringing matters into the light. She wrote an opinion piece for the Napa Valley Register on GE grapevine trials, noting that both Cornell and UC Davis 'have permits to field test up to five and a half acres of experimental GE grapes anywhere in California.' The piece asks a lot of questions that may have fairly benign answers, but Martenson’s point is that she can’t get those answers, benign or otherwise. 'What types of genes are they using that they feel they need to hide that information from the public?' she asks, regarding a trial using genes designated as 'confidential business information.'
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the article is that the Cornell professor she quotes, Dr. Bruce Reisch, shows up several times in the comment section. Reisch takes issue with much of what Martenson writes and argues that the United States food system is 'one of the very best in the world,' the success of which 'includes the ongoing and widespread consumption of a multitude of products from plant genetic engineering, and these products have an excellent track record of”¦production of healthy food products.' Martenson counters with arguments about U.S. approval of products (such as bovine growth hormone) that are not allowed in other first-world countries and adds that 'many third-world countries will not even accept GE crops as food aid.' The exchange is civil, extended, and enlightening and may be found here: http://www.napavalleyregister.com/articles/2007/03/15/opinion/commentary/doc45f9480b21e0e837159310.txt
7.AB 541 - Genetic Engineering in Agriculture
...In spite of the uncontrollability of genetic contamination, farmers contaminated by GE crops can be and have been sued by GE manufacturers for patent infringement.
...AB 541 protects California farmers in these ways:
1. Protects farmers unknowingly contaminated by GE crops from patent infringement lawsuits by biotechnology corporations.
2. Establishes a mandatory crop sampling protocol to be used by patent holders when investigating farmers they believe may have violated patents or seed contracts. This protocol would require the farmer's written permission for sampling, and provide for the option of the presence of a designee of the Secretary of Agriculture to accompany the patent holder during the sampling and collect duplicate samples for independent verification if requested by either party.
AB 541 levels the playing field for farmers accused by Monsanto and others of contract violations, and discourages their practice of sampling crops without explicit permission from farmers and then prosecuting based on unverifiable testing results.
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