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Protests in Boston / Massachusetts towns vote against GM (8/5/2007)

1.Photos of Bio-Justice Puppet Parade In Boston
2.Nine Massachusetts Towns Vote Against Genetic Engineering
3.Conflict over genetic modification in Maine

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1.Photos of Bio-Justice Puppet Parade In Roxbury [Boston]
by Michael Borkson
Boston Indymedia, 7 May 2007
http://boston.indymedia.org/feature/display/199290/index.php

Several hundred lively protesters led by a marching band and puppets marched through Roxbury today 6 May 07 to protest the Boston Bio-Tech conference and the BU Bio-Terror Lab.
[view pictures at
http://boston.indymedia.org/feature/display/199290/index.php ]

AUDIO: Listen to radio report with NOFA about BioJustice goals and events, plus the Student Labor Action Movement on the hunger strike at Harvard:
http://wmbr.mit.edu/www/sched-sun#whats

[More Links to audio from BioJustice 2007 Events:
http://boston.indymedia.org/newswire/display/199231/index.php

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2..Nine Massachusetts Towns Vote Against Genetic Engineering
By NOFA/Mass
http://www.nofamass.org/news/nine_towns.php

[NOTE: See also Town to Town Campaign on Genetic Engineering:
http://www.nofamass.org/programs/townmeeting.php ]

Since May 1, nine towns in Western Massachusetts have passed resolutions at their annual Town Meetings opposing genetic engineering of food and agricultural crops. These resolutions represent the latest wave of a region-wide effort that has been underway since 2002.

"The success of these resolutions at town meetings this year reflects a deepening opposition to genetic engineering in Massachusetts and across New England," said Ben Grosscup, a field organizer for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts and a leader in petitioning for the resolution in Amherst

In the largest such effort to date in Massachusetts, 9 new towns have put articles on their town meeting warrants calling for major policy changes for the biotechnology industry. Each town placed slightly different wording on its warrant, but all called for three key policy changes: 1) mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered foods; 2) liability protection to strengthen farmers’ legal rights when dealing with biotechnology corporations; and 3) a moratorium on further growing of GE crops until independent scientific evidence proves them to be safe, and they can be demonstrated not to harmfully affect family farms.

So far this year, all nine towns in Massachusetts that debated these resolutions voted to support at least some of the appeals, and five of these voted to support all three. The towns include Charlemont, Shutesbury, Bernardston, Amherst, Granby, Ware, Sandisfield, Williamstown, and New Salem.

Since 2000, 111 towns and cities in New England have passed resolutions that put themselves on record questioning genetic engineering of food and crops. With the votes of the nine new towns from 2006, Massachusetts now has 21 towns, and one city, Boston, that have passed such resolutions. In Vermont, where these efforts first took off on a wide scale, 85 towns and cities have passed measures on the issue, along with 2 towns in Maine and 2 in New Hampshire. Earlier this year, residents of Montville, Maine voted to amend their town plan to prohibit growing of GE crops. This may be the first such resolution to carry the force of law in any New England town.

Accompanied by a spirited debate that lasted for over 40 minutes, on June 13, the New Salem Town Meeting approved all three articles that pertained to genetic engineering: a request for labeling GE food by 28-4, a call for farmer liability protection by 33-9, and a moratorium by 18-12. One New Salem citizen, Joseph Cuneo answered comments that genetic engineering has been going on for thousands of years, by pointing out that the GE crops that have been on the market on a wide scale since 1996 are produced in dramatically new, and untested ways. Another citizen said that the farmer liability protection measure was a key step toward establishing legal rights for farmers that have been sued by Monsanto for patent infringement and suffered economic damages due to crop contamination. Jennifer Cuneo commented on the significance of town meeting taking up the issue of genetic engineering: "It's a louder voice when towns vote on these issues than when each individual calls up their representative. It's got to start here at town meeting, because that's what democracy is all about."

On Monday May 8, Amherst Town meeting debated the 3 articles on its warrant for over an hour and a quarter. The labeling resolution passed by voice vote. The liability legislation resolution passed by 115-60, and the moratorium resolution passed by 82-77.

The Amherst Town Meeting, whose participants, or "members," are elected by town residents, includes several scientists, some of whom spoke against the resolutions, but others spoke in favor. Members pointed out that genetic engineering is dramatically different than various from of plant breeding and hybridization that have gone on for thousands of years, because never before have genes been so separated from their own evolutionary contexts, implanted into crops from entirely different kingdoms, and patented for commercial profit. Many town meeting members were pleased to have the chance to voice their opinions in the intelligent debate that took place.

In the town of Ware, over 100 people attended their Town meeting. The farmer liability resolution, passed quickly by 55-44. Then, the petition sponsor, Heidi Bara, spoke in favor of the call for a moratorium on genetic engineering. An organic farmer in Ware, Matthew Biskup, also spoke in favor of the moratorium, citing concerns that his corn crop is in danger of contamination. That measure, however, was defeated by voice vote. When the labeling resolution came up, one woman said "I want to know what I'm eating," and it passed by a voice vote.

Starting at the very beginning of their town meeting, citizens of Granby debated the 3 articles on genetic engineering. With nearly 200 people in attendance, each resolution passed without tallying. Although petitioners have generally anticipated the greatest controversy from their calls for a moratorium on GE crops, they insist that a moratorium is necessary to fully address the threats posed by genetic engineering in agriculture. Organic Farmer, Ryan Voiland, who sponsored the articles said, "I'm glad that Granby is supportive of a more responsible approach to agriculture and that they have showed their support for a moratorium on genetic engineering until further study is done. I wasn't sure how people would feel, and I was pleasantly surprised that people were so in favor of them." At the same meeting, Voiland brought forth a measure to form an agricultural commission in Granby, which also passed.

On May 6, Organic gardener, Linda Avis Scott and her husband, Michael Baines, presented an anti-GE resolution to the Shutesbury town meeting, which voted unanimously to support. Along with other local activists, Scott had been educating the community about the threat of genetic engineering. "The resolution we put on the warrant in Shutesbury really taps into my fundamental belief of what town meeting is about -- the true democracy that allows us to express ourselves freely and to be heard," Scott said. The same day Bernardston passed a measure for mandatory labeling of GE foods and seeds and it referred two other measures on farmer liability and a moratorium to the newly founded agricultural commission for further discussion.

On May 1, the Charlemont Town Meeting, which went until 11:30pm, passed a resolution to "encourage a local moratorium on the growing of Genetically Engineered crops until there is adequate scientific evidence that these products are not harmful to us or our environment," and calling on legislators to enact mandatory labeling and farmer liability protection.

Organic Farmer, John Hoffman, who sponsored the Charlemont article said "neither I nor many others at town meeting are late night people." Nonetheless, more than half of the 80 or so who attended stayed until the very end when the article came up. Although the vote was not unanimous, a vast majority voted in favor. "Many told me after the meeting that they appreciated having the opportunity to vote on the resolution and to support it," Hoffman said. Hoffman, intends to continue discussion on this issue in the agricultural commission that has just formed in Charlemont. Charlemont's choice to "encourage a local moratorium," although it lacks binding legal authority, is viewed as a statement of moral authority by the town.

These kinds of resolutions have exerted significant influence on state policy. In 2004, Vermont passed a first-in-the-nation law requiring clearer labeling of all genetically engineered seeds sold in the state. Then, in May 2006, the Vermont House and Senate passed landmark legislation permitting farmers to sue GE crop developers under private nuisance law in cases where damages over $3500 can be demonstrated. The bill passed the Vermont House in April by 77-63 and passed the Senate a week later by 19-8. The multi-year town meeting effort that resulted in 85 towns passing resolutions against genetic engineering significantly heightened the debate in Vermont. On May 15, however, Governor Jim Douglas vetoed the bill, disappointing many farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates

The liability issue has gained traction due to the practices of Monsanto, which is the largest developer of GE crop varieties. Monsanto patents novel gene sequences in their GE crops, which are able to affect non-GE crops through wind pollination and seed spillage from trucks. Organic farmer John Hoffman, said, "This issue affects me directly because of the possible contamination of my corn crop. We know that with wind pollinated crops like corn, GE pollen will cross with non-GE varieties. For me, that means that my organically grown crop is no longer organic."

The corporate patent rights that come with these novel gene sequences pose liability threats that leave many farmers concerned. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2003 that Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 million and a staff of 75 devoted to investigating and prosecuting farmers for patent infringement.

So far, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits against U.S. farmers, according to a 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety, and has been awarded judgments totaling over $15 million. Many farmers settle with the company out-of-court, accepting mandated gag orders and leaving scant information about their cases. Gloria Meluleni, an organic farmer who runs Coyote Hill Farm and brought forth resolutions on GE to the Bernardston Town Meeting said, "It is so unjust and ridiculous that Monsanto can sue people when its GE pollen crosses over to someone else's crop."

To get in touch with, NOFA/Mass field organizer, Ben Grosscup: ben.grosscup@nofamass.org or contact NOFA/Mass: info@nofamass.org.

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3.The real conflict over genetic modification
Morning Sentinel, Maine Today, 7 May 2007 The real conflict over genetic modification

Some of the most insightful testimony on the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) liability bill (April 24) pointed out that conventional growers as well as growers with organic certification serve markets that demand genetically engineered (GE)-free products. So the divide is not between organic and conventional farmers, but between the biotech industry and GE-free advocates.

Bill opponents testified that GM crops are safe and are planted to reduce pesticide use. In response, supporters of LD 1650 pointed out that genetic modification is a haphazard experimental process that relies on the profligate use of pesticides. Damage to soil microorganisms and beneficial insects is inevitable, as is the reality of herbicide-resistant weeds. When weeds become resistant to herbicides, more chemical use is considered necessary to eradicate them.

A federal district judge ruled last month that USDA must halt all new field trials of GM crops until more rigorous environmental reviews are conducted (www.non-gmoreport.com). Why? Because escaping pollen threatens public health and the environment. Although multiple farmers testified that it's impossible to build fences high enough or tight enough to keep out pollen drift, Robert Tardy of the Biotechnology Industry Organization wants LD 1650 amended to require organic (non-GMO) growers to establish buffer zones to prevent commingling. This is tacit admission that genetic drift onto non-GMO fields will ruin farm operations, both conventional and organic, whose marketing depends on being GE-free.

Jody Spear
Harborside for Sierra Club

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