Monsanto-Backed GE Food Bill dies in CA Legislature (2/9/2006)

1.Monsanto-Backed GE Food Bill dies in CA Legislature
2.CA's SB1056 Fails, Communities Retain Right to Shape their Food Systems

EXCERPT: Assemblywoman Patty Berg said, "I argued against that bill and I voted against that bill because I think it's bad for California... Bottom line: if the people don't want it, it shouldn't be forced on them." (item 2)

1.Monsanto-Backed GE Food Bill dies in CA Legislature
Senate rebuffs biotech industry-sponsored play to pre-empt local democracy
Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, Sep 2 2006

Proponents of precautions for genetically engineered crops declared victory in their battle to defend the rights of counties and cities to enact local restrictions on genetically engineered (GE) organisms. SB1056, a bill that would have pre-empted such local laws, failed to make it out of committee in the California Senate and died with the close of the legislative year.

The Monsanto-backed bill was introduced last year after the passage of four county and two city bans on GE crops. It was opposed by associations of cities and counties, environmentalists, organic and family farmers, and thousands of citizens concerned that it would have pre-empted democratically established local rules. California currently has no state regulations to protect farmers, consumers or the environment from the risks of GE crops.

"In the absence of statewide safeguards, local governments have stepped up to the plate and taken the precaution of restricting GE crops," said Lisa Bunin, Ph.D., member of the Santa Cruz County Public Health Commission GE Subcommittee. "With the passage of local GE-free laws, these governments have sent a clear message that the state needs to act not only to protect the state's diverse agriculture, but also public health and the environment."

One of the central concerns about genetically engineered crops is contamination of the food supply by engineered varieties. Just this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that an unapproved variety of GE rice has been contaminating the U.S. rice supply for years. Japan, the E.U., and other important U.S. rice importing countries reacted immediately with bans and restrictions on long grain rice imports, shaking the rice industry and causing the rice futures market to plummet by more than $150 million so far.

Peggy Miars, Executive Director of California Certified Organic Farmers, explains, "Organic farmers are often portrayed as the main farming sector concerned about genetic contamination. While it is true that organic markets are highly vulnerable to GE contamination, the recent rice fiasco demonstrates once again that this is an issue for all farmers, both organic and non-organic, whose customers don't want to buy gene altered foods."

"The rice contamination incident highlights the inadequacy of the federal GE regulatory system, and the high economic stakes involved when contamination occurs. It serves as a wake-up call to California lawmakers about the need for state legislation on GE," stated Rebecca Spector, Center for Food Safety's West Coast Director.

Beginning last year, the biotechnology industry pushed for similar pre-emption laws in several U.S. states, fearful that California's model of local bans would take hold elsewhere. It has also spent decades fighting all over the world against any regulatory restrictions on experimental GE foods.

"By not even bringing SB1056 to a vote, the Senate sent a clear message that enacting pre-emption before state legislation is bad policy," said Renata Brillinger, Director of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture. "We commend Senate leadership, and look forward to moving ahead with discussions on effective state laws to address the problems associated with genetic engineering of crops and food."

Californians for GE-Free Agriculture is a coalition of sustainable farming, environmental, and consumer organizations including: California Certified Organic Farmers * Center for Environmental Health * Center for Food Safety * Community Alliance with Family Farmers * Ecological Farming Association * Occidental Arts and Ecology Center * True Food Network

2.CA's SB1056 Fails, Communities Retain Right to Shape their Food Systems
by Britt Bailey
Friday Sep 1st, 2006


As the 2006 California legislature came to a close, environmental and sustainable agriculture advocates breathed a sigh of relief as a controversial bill intended to strip local communities’ rule over seeds and plants was defeated.

SB1056, introduced as a direct response to local governments adopting ordinances restricting the growing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), died as the session came to an end yesterday. Since 2004, four counties (Mendocino, Trinity, Santa Cruz, and Marin) and two cities (Point Arena and Arcata) have acted to prevent the growing of genetically modified seeds. The agribusiness industry, including Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, worried that local regulation of genetically modified crops would hamper the consolidation and expansion of intensive agriculture, have backed and supported the bill removing local authority over seeds and plants.

While stopping local initiatives to regulate genetically modified organisms was squarely the basis for SB1056, the breadth of the preemption bill and its limitation on the democratic rights of citizens created discomfort for local government organizations, community rights advocates, and legislators, as well as for environmental and farming advocates. Referring to SB1056, Senator Wesley Chesbro stated, "First and foremost, it's anti-democratic to deny local voters the right to speak." Assemblywoman Patty Berg said, "I argued against that bill and I voted against that bill because I think it's bad for California. If the counties involved in giant agribusiness want to allow GMO crops, that's their business. But they shouldn't be able to impose it on the rest of the state, especially not on counties here on the North Coast that are taking a serious look at banning this worrisome technology. Bottom line: if the people don't want it, it shouldn't be forced on them."

According to Environmental Commons Director, Britt Bailey, "I am very pleased that California's local governments will retain the right to shape their food systems. Local food systems build community, improve rural economies, and develop regional character and identity."

SB1056 is at the crux of a fierce, decade-long debate between sustainable agriculture advocates and biotechnology multinationals. Those supporting and protecting sustainable agriculture point to a lack of adequate state and federal regulations protecting foods from the detrimental effects of "genetic pollution," which occurs when an engineered gene enters another species of crop or wild plant through cross-pollination. Vern Goehring, lobbyist for the California Native Plant Society also in opposition to SB1056, affirms the rights of communities to protect their food systems, "Cross pollination from cultivated plants to wild plants is a common occurrence and science has shown that this depends on the individual crop, the wild species in the area, and local environmental conditions. Therefore, it is critical that local communities retain the ability to protect their local economies and natural resources."

In recent weeks news broke that the U.S. food supply has been contaminated with an unapproved variety of genetically engineered rice developed by Bayer Corporation. Japan, South Korea, and Europe immediately placed bans and restrictions on long grain rice imports. The contamination has caused rice futures to fall an estimated $150 million. Californians are likely to see another legislative attempt to preempt local governments in the future. Though, for now, communities can continue to protect their environmental and farming resources.


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