Missouri Senate Looks to Block Local Biotech Bans

Published May 1, 2006

The Missouri Senate Agriculture Committee on March 15 approved a bill that would prohibit local communities from placing additional restrictions on genetically enhanced crops.

The bill, SB 1009, would require uniform statewide regulations regarding registration, labeling, sale, storage, and planting of seeds and would prohibit the state and local governments from enacting regulations more stringent than their federal counterparts.

With two California counties recently banning genetically enhanced crops, legislators in Missouri and several other states have worked to ensure communities in their states do not give in to pressure from anti-technology groups. Fourteen states have prohibited local regulation of genetically enhanced seeds, and Missouri is one of several others currently considering the issue.

Uniformity Protects Freedom

“Ordinarily, it is desirable to give local governments some freedom to ‘compete’ with one another on how best to achieve certain goals,” said Greg Conko, director of food safety policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“But, since federal regulation sets a floor below which no state or municipality may lower their regulatory stringency, and states often set an even higher floor below which no municipality in the state may venture, no real competitive governance can take place,” Conko explained. “Since the only way for local governments to go is toward less and less freedom for their residents, I think there are very good reasons for precluding local governments from imposing stricter regulations.”

“We need to continue to send a very clear message that Missouri is very open to biotechnology, because not only will farmers have the ability to produce [biotech] food, but we will be able to heal people,” Sen. David Klindt (R-Bethany) told the Associated Press for an article published on March 15 by the Kansas City Star.

Klindt, a farmer in northwest Missouri, knows firsthand how a state’s openness to biotechnology can benefit not only crop production but also the state’s business economy. Ventria Bioscience, based in Sacramento, California, is planning to relocate to Klindt’s Missouri district.

Federal Expertise Greater

According to Conko, “The justifications for setting nationwide rules at the federal level are, one, that the federal government typically has vastly better resources and greater expertise with which to set the ‘optimal’ level of regulatory strictness; and two, that setting one national policy is better for consumers and producers because it allows goods and services to flow more freely around the country. Both argue against letting states or local governments set idiosyncratic standards.”

Activists disagree. “We, as local citizens, will be giving up our rights,” warned Rhonda Perry, program director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, for the March 15 Kansas City Star report.

Citizens Thoroughly Protected

“The FDA, USDA, and EPA each have thousands of scientists working for them, and they have ready access to most of the world’s leading independent scientific and medical expertise–certainly more so than state or local governments do,” Conko noted. “The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, for example, was established for the express purpose of providing scientific advice to the federal government. Even the biggest states, such as California and Texas, have no comparable level of expertise, and local governments are woefully less competent by comparison with states.

“Given that the federal government has set regulatory policies for biotech crops and foods that are stricter than even the National Academy of Sciences has recommended, it makes little sense for states, counties, or municipalities to ratchet up regulatory standards from that already too high level,” Conko added.

At press time, SB 1009 was awaiting action by the full Missouri state Senate, and the bill’s House counterpart, HB 1842, was awaiting action by a House committee.

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

For more information …

More information about biotechnology is available on the Web site of Truth about Trade & Technology, http://truthabouttrade.org/.