Farmers push for shield from biotech crop liability

Grand Island Independent, February 2, 2005 -- CropChoice: Growing liability concerns about biotech crops have farmers in Vermont, Montana and North Dakota supporting legislation to make biotechnology companies, not farmers and grain elevators, liable for damages from genetically modified crops, according to the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

The legislation would also prevent the manufacturers from suing farmers who are unintentionally growing genetically engineered crops because their fields have been contaminated by crops planted nearby.

Legislative committees in Vermont and Montana have heard testimony supporting Farmer Protection Acts and a hearing has been scheduled for Thursday in North Dakota by the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Farm advocacy groups across the nation such as WORC are working with farmers to ensure protection from liability for any damage caused by biotech products.

"If genetically engineered wheat is introduced, this bill will protect farmers from the liabilities associated with this crop resulting from contamination by making sure biotechnology companies are responsible for their product," said Dena Hoff, a farmer near Glendive, Mont., and representative of the Northern Plains Resource Council.

Hoff cited a recently released study, Monsanto vs. Farmers, by the Center for Food Safety that found that Monsanto has sued or is suing more than 100 farmers for patent infringement. Even farmers who have not planted the seeds are at risk of these lawsuits.

Currently, farmers who buy genetically engineered seeds must sign Technology Use Agreements. These agreements shield the patent company from liability for contamination and place the full liability burden on farmers. Farmers contend these agreements essentially pit farmer against farmer when conflicts arise.

Farmers are equally concerned about the effects on grain elevators.

"Losses to a country elevator for a 400,000-bushel train load of wheat to a West Coast port could equal a half-million-dollar loss of milling grade, transportation costs and railroad charges for a train load of wheat sitting idle at the port," said Todd Leake, a wheat farmer from Grand Forks County, N.D., and member of the Dakota Resource Council. "These losses would bankrupt these country elevators."

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