D.C., October 5, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Philip Brasher,
Des Moines Register: StarLink lives on.
Four years after becoming one of the most notorious
products of biotechnology, anti-biotech activists are
using the example of StarLink in their campaign to ban
the growing of genetically engineered crops in four
First, Iowa. Next, California. Or so goes the logic.
The discovery of StarLink corn in taco shells roiled
U.S. grain export markets and forced nationwide food
recalls. StarLink was approved for animal feed but not
for human consumption. Activists are warning California
farmers a similar disaster could happen to them.
Two northern California counties, Mendocino and Trinity,
have already banned the cultivation of biotech crops.
Those two will hardly matter in the grand scheme of
American agriculture because they are not big agricultural
But now anti-biotech activists are targeting some counties
with significant agriculture, including Butte County,
California's second-largest rice producer. Butte County
farmers did $252 million in sales in 2002.
The activists say this is the start of a statewide
movement to stop biotech agriculture in California.
So far, California producers grow relatively few biotech
crops, mostly cotton, but there is a vigorous debate
going on over whether the state's farmers should try
Roundup Ready rice when it comes on the market.
"We have an opportunity here that wasn't available
in the Midwest because the technology was rushed to
market so quickly there," said Renata Brillinger
of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture.
Her organization does not take a position on the ballot
measures, but it recently organized a series of speaking
events for several Midwest farmers and activists in
Butte County and other farming areas.
George Naylor of Churdan, IA., president of the National
Family Farm Coalition, spoke recently to journalism
students at the University of California-Berkeley and
also at an event for farmers in Watsonville, CA.
"I thought it was important that farmers and consumers
get some independent information about genetically modified
crops other than from the corporations that stand to
gain from the sale of these products," Naylor said.
Watsonville is not in one of the counties with a November
ballot measure, and the issue did not come up during
the meeting there, but Naylor said there is reason for
Iowans to watch what is going on in California.
"They need to be worried about whether people
decide they aren't going to eat GM crops. That's always
a possibility," he said.
When the issue came up earlier this year in Mendocino
County, the biotech companies took the lead in fighting
the referendum, spending more than $600,000 through
CropLife America, an industry trade group.
This time around, conventional farmers are taking the
lead. The California Cattlemen's Association is helping
out, lending a top official to the pro-biotech campaign.
The president of the American Farm Bureau Federation,
Bob Stallman, went to Butte County in August to raise
money for opponents of Measure D, the anti-biotech referendum.
While the Farm Bureau views these ballot measures as
isolated actions, "we're watching them very closely,"
said Michelle Gorman, director of regulatory issues
of the organization. "We don't like what's happening
Be sure that the biotech industry is watching what
is happening in California, too, even if company executives
are keeping their heads down.
The Butte County vote will provide a better gauge of
sentiment in the state.
"After November we'll have a better grasp"
of whether there is a trend, said Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman
for the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "We
really haven't been tested in an agricultural area."