BISMARCK, N.D., February 15, 2005,DALE WETZEL Associated Press/CropChoice.com:
Biotechnology supporters overrode questions in the state
Senate about the proper share of legal liability for
biotech wheat seed developers, defeating a bill that
they believed would stifle innovation.
The legislation "would be harmful to the biotech
industry," said Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr. "It
would ... seriously hurt North Dakota's chances for
creating a climate for research and development."
Opponents of biotech wheat fear its introduction in
North Dakota would ruin the state's overseas export
markets in Japan and Europe, where many consumers are
skeptical about the benefits of genetic modification
They supported legislation, introduced by Sen. Connie
Triplett, D-Grand Forks, that would require biotech
seed developers to bear much of the legal responsibility
if their crop spread to fields or grain bins where it
Senators defeated the legislation, 30-14, on Monday.
"If this bill were to pass, this puts us on an
island that we can't afford to be on," said Sen.
Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo. "We would be the only state
in the United States to have this."
Farmers who use biotech seed are usually required to
sign contracts in which they assume responsibility for
damage the seed may cause to neighboring fields. Triplett
said her bill was intended to give farmers more leverage
in those agreements.
"I see this as a protection for all of the farmers
in our state, both those who want to grow this kind
of wheat, and those who do not," Triplett said.
"It should not be perceived as a death knell for
research, or for the introduction of new products, but
rather a realistic notion that if the genie gets out
of the bag, that it's out of the bag forever."
Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, said he doubted the legislation
would hamper crop research.
"If it helps increase the bottom line to farmers,
we want them," Bowman said. "But when it gets
down to the liability issue, if the company knows that
this has the potential to do damage, and then doesn't
want to have any liability dealing with it, I think
we have to hold them accountable."
Triplett's bill got its first Senate hearing only four
days ago, and Monday's Senate debate on the legislation
had an anti-climactic feel, two years after it sparked
some of the Legislature's most impassioned arguments
about technology and its role in agriculture.
Since the 2003 session, Monsanto Co., a St. Louis company
that had been developing a biotech variety of hard red
spring wheat, stopped its work and ordered its North
Dakota State University research plots destroyed.
The seed was designed to withstand Monsanto's Roundup
weed killer, and the company had been closest to commercial
"All planned releases for the commercialization
of biotech wheat have been tabled for nearly over a
year now," Erbele said. "There are no forecasts
for its release any time soon. It's an issue, essentially,
that doesn't exist at this time."
Triplett said questions about the potential impact
of biotech wheat, and who should bear responsibility
if something went wrong, were still relevant.
Bowman agreed. "This isn't going to go away,"
he said. "Once this product's introduced, once
your neighbor gets sued by your neighbor ... they're
going to run right back into (the Legislature) and say,
'What are you going to do about it?'"