April 25, 2005, Eric Kelderman for Stateline.org via CropChoice.com:
Seed companies, pharmaceutical makers and biotechnology
groups are pushing legislators to limit oversight of
experimental crops designed to resist disease and insects
or to produce chemicals and enzymes for scientific research.
But environmentalists and food and beverage producers
are urging caution, warning lawmakers of unknown economic
and health risks of genetically engineered crops that
could cross-pollinate with regular plants.
State lawmakers, so far, are siding mostly with biotechnology
proponents. Seven states -- Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas,
North Dakota, South Dakota and Pennsylvania -- have
enacted laws to prohibit counties and other local governments
from banning or regulating genetically enhanced seeds
in their jurisdictions. A similar bill, supported by
the agribusiness industry, is awaiting action by the
governor in Georgia. And like-minded measures are being
considered by legislatures in Arizona, Oklahoma and
At the same time, two states are considering new restrictions
and penalties designed to limit bioengineered crops.
A bill in the Vermont Legislature would make seed companies,
instead of farmers, liable for damage from genetically
modified plants. And in Oregon, a bill has been introduced
to ban the outdoor growing of genetically engineered
plants intended for industrial or pharmaceutical uses.
While genetically engineered plants have long been
controversial in Europe, the issue erupted in the United
States last year when voters in three California counties
banned high-tech crops within their borders. Those actions
have sparked a state-by-state effort to prevent local
governments from enacting similar prohibitions.
"We think local governments have enough problems
without having to incur the costs of regulating an industry
monitored by three federal agencies," said Ab Basu,
who lobbies states for CropLife America, an association
that represents ag-business giants such as BASF, Bayer
CropScience, Dow Agrosciences, Monsanto and Syngenta.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration
and Environmental Protection Agency already put limits
on genetically modified plants, and farmers do not want
unnecessary and overlapping local laws, he said.
Growers come down on both sides of the issue. Iowa
state Rep. Sandy Greiner (R), a farmer and supporter
of her state's new seed law, said the measure prevents
a patchwork of varying regulations within the Hawkeye
State. She notes that states already have jurisdiction
over other widely used agricultural products, such as
fertilizer and pesticides.
But Iowa state Rep. Mark Kuhn (D), also a farmer, said
local governments should have the ability to protect
growers who worry about contamination from genetically
modified plants, especially farmers trying to meet the
standards for certified organic crops. Kuhn sponsored
a failed amendment to the Iowa bill that would have
given counties the right to establish limited zones
prohibiting bioengineered plants.
Some opponents of the high-tech crops also want to
preempt local governments -- by imposing stricter rules
against growing those plants. Rick North, an advocate
of the Oregon bill limiting genetically engineered plants
statewide, said that experimental crops would inevitably
contaminate the food supply if they were not properly
controlled. "We don't want drugs ... or industrial
chemicals" in our food, said North, a spokesman
for the Oregon chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
That's a sentiment reflected in the attitudes of many
major food and beverage companies that must ensure the
safety of their products to consumers worldwide. Brewery
giant Anheuser-Busch has threatened to stop buying rice
-- a common ingredient for some mass-produced beers
-- from Missouri farmers if the pharmaceutical company
Ventria Bioscience is allowed to plant an experimental
variety of that crop in the Show Me State.
"Because Ventria's Pharma rice is not 'generally
recognized as safe' ... it is not appropriate for food
consumption, and even if it were, Anheuser-Busch believes
that genetically modified rice should be segregated
from traditional rice varieties to give food manufacturers
and consumers the choice to use such rice," the
company stated in written comments to the FDA.
Riceland Foods Inc., which markets rice, soybeans and
wheat grown by roughly 9,000 farmers in five states,
also opposes Ventria's experimental rice in Missouri,
as does the National Food Products Association, which
is the largest trade association serving the food and
beverage industry in the United States and worldwide.