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 of food.
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 wasn't wanted.
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
The seed was designed to withstand Monsanto's Roundup weed killer,
and the company had been closest to commercial plantings.
"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
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?'"