California Moves to Preempt Biotech Bans

Published October 1, 2006

The California legislature is considering a bill sponsored by state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) preempting individual counties from banning the growing of genetically enhanced crops.

The bill was introduced in 2005 and was approved by the California Assembly’s Agriculture Committee in June 2006. It passed the Assembly on August 24 by a bipartisan 46-19 vote and is now being considered by the state Senate.

Four California counties already have adopted local bans on biotech crops. Although those counties do not produce many crops, state legislators fear a patchwork of confusing regulations if many more counties follow suit.

Farmers Support Biotech

“We are concerned that if we decide county by county that we can’t use biotechnology, it’ll really tie our hands,” Cynthia Cory, director of environmental affairs at the California Farm Bureau Federation, told the San Francisco Chronicle for a July 29 article. “California farmers will miss a great opportunity.”

The Farm Bureau is particularly concerned because, as noted in the Chronicle article, “Genetically enhanced seeds are often associated with increased crop productivity, better-looking foods, and crop resilience.”

Eight states–Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and West Virginia–have passed laws preempting local biotechnology bans.

County Bans Politically Motivated

“There is no reason other than anti-technology prejudice for a political jurisdiction to ban bioengineered crops or food,” said Gregory Conko, director of food safety policy at the Washington, DC-based Competitive Enterprise Institute. “The proposed California legislation simply preserves the right of farmers and consumers to have access to a crop technology that millions of people around the world have found to be useful.

“From a constitutional perspective, counties and cities have no independent legal authority aside from that which state government grants to them, so there is no question that the California legislature has the legitimate power to preempt these silly and ill-conceived bans,” Conko added.

Biotech Safe: State Committee

A recent analysis by the California Assembly Committee on Agriculture quashed environmental activists’ allegations that genetically enhanced foods pose environmental or human health dangers.

“Biotechnology seed … already receives much greater scrutiny than any other conventional agriculture product,” the analysis observed. “In total, the regulatory scheme that governs the safe use of biotechnology comprises between 10 and 15 years of governmental research and oversight.”

“SB 1056 would ensure consistency of regulation throughout the state and obviate the need for farmers to navigate a county-by-county patchwork of restrictions and requirements,” said Henry Miller, a scientist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “The bill has the support of virtually all major agricultural organizations, including the California Farm Bureau, Western United Dairymen, Western Growers Association, the Wine Institute, and more.”

Bans Mean More Pesticides

Miller continued, “Outlawing the cultivation of insect-resistant crops developed with the assistance of modern biotechnology ensures the increased use of chemical pesticides, and the persistence of these chemicals in ground and surface water, and it will result in increased occupational exposures. By contrast, the technology makes it possible to remove dangerous allergens from wheat, peanuts, milk, and other commonly allergenic foods.

“There is not a single documented case of injury to a person or disruption of an ecosystem” as a result of biotech, Miller observed. “There is a broad consensus among scientists that gene-splicing techniques are essentially an extension, or refinement, of earlier ones, and that gene transfer or modification by molecular techniques does not, per se, confer risk.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

A California Senate summary of the Florez biotech bill is available online at