GMO bill sets stage for 'a fine mess' (19/5/2005)

North Dakota's GMO bill sets stage for 'a fine mess'
By Dean Hulse, The Forum
Thursday, May 19, 2005

Janell Cole deserves kudos for her succinct reporting of the 2005 North Dakota Legislative session in the Saturday, April 30, edition of The Forum (A12). However, nitpicker that I am, I feel compelled to point out that Cole shortchanges readers when, under the heading "GMO Crops," she mentions only "lawmakers" and doesn't identify the players behind this particular piece of legislation-that is, SB 2277.

Sen. Tim Flakoll and Rep. Rick Berg, both Fargo Republicans, were among the sponsors of this bill, which, as Cole reports, will prohibit cities and counties from enacting local laws to restrict the growing of crops containing genetically modified organisms.

I attended the hearing when SB 2277 was before the House Agriculture Committee, chaired by Rep. Eugene Nicholas, R-Cando, another of the bill's sponsors. Upon opening the hearing, Nicholas spoke of how some states have literally zoned agriculture right out of production. When testifying on behalf of his own bill, Sen. Flakoll produced a colorful map of California, demonstrating how activists have been successful at achieving local seed regulation.

Sounds ominous. But what if the entity wanting to overrule planting decisions isn't a legislative body or a well-established environmental group or even a loosely organized muddle-minded activist organization, but rather, a numbers-crunching, consumer-focused corporation?

Consider: Sacramento-based Ventria Bioscience recently moved its GMO rice operations to Missouri, home to beer giant Anheuser-Busch Cos., which just so happens to use rice in its beer. Fearing that Ventria's GMO rice might somehow contaminate Missouri's conventional rice, Anheuser-Busch - the
biggest rice buyer in the nation - threatened to boycott Missouri rice. In the end, Anheuser- Busch and Ventria reached an agreement, whereby the beer giant won't boycott Missouri rice if the bioscience company moves its GMO rice fields at least 120 miles away from the state's conventional rice- growing region.

Consider: In 2003, North Dakota led the nation in the production of hard red spring wheat, durum wheat, oats, barley, flaxseed, navy beans, pinto beans, peas, oil sunflower, confection sunflower and canola. In the case of flax, for example, North Dakota produced 95 percent of the nation's supply.

Now, what if a major purchaser of any of those North Dakota commodities came to the state and said it would boycott our grains or pulses or oilseed crops if we didn't separate GMO crops from conventional crops by at least 120 miles?

Based on Sen. Flakoll's and Rep. Berg's role in grinding out SB 2277, I'd feel a bit like Oliver Hardy, and to those lawmakers, I'd say, "Here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."

Hulse, Fargo, is chairman of the Dakota Resource Council. E-mail
[email protected]


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