Legislation that would ensure all farmers in the state of California have a right to plant genetically improved crops subject to federal health and environmental rules failed to reach a vote before the state Senate’s yearly session ended on August 30.
As a result, anti-technology activists can continue to seek patchwork bans and restrictions on genetically enhanced crops on a county-by-county basis.
Strong Bipartisan Support
A version of the bill passed the Senate by a 31-to-8 vote in June 2005, but the measure had not been approved by the Assembly by the end of the 2004-2005 session. After an amended version of the bill passed the California Assembly on August 24, 2006 by a greater than 2-to-1 margin, the bill was returned to the Senate.
However, because the amended bill was sent to the Senate with less than a week left in the session, the bill was doomed to failure for lack of timely action.
Opponents Claim Mandate
The bill was introduced after the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution in September 2005 asserting the state government should not allow farmers to grow genetically improved crops. Berkeley Councilwoman Kriss Worthington claimed an anti-biotechnology mandate from the Senate’s inability to act on the Assembly-passed bill.
“It’s a good sign that the Legislature was not willing to give in so easily,” Worthington told the September 12 Berkeley Daily Planet. “If more cities or counties adopt restrictions, it will create momentum for positive state law, instead of a negative state law.”
“By not even bringing S.B. 1056 to a vote, the Senate sent a clear message that enacting pre-emption before state legislation is bad policy,” added Renata Brillinger, director of the anti-technology Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, in the Daily Planet.
Sponsors Vow to Fight
State Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), who authored the bill with fellow Democrat Sen. Barbara Matthews (D-Tracy) and Republican Sen. Bill Maze (R-Visalia), has vowed to continue the fight for “equal opportunity” farming until S.B. 1056 is either enacted or rejected on a floor vote.
With the California legislature expressing its strong support for farmers’ right to choose whether to grow genetically improved crops, the momentum is building for definitive action in the 2006-2007 session.
Biotech Crops Healthy, Safe
Henry Miller, a scientist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, pointed out federal oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ensure genetically improved crops are as safe as or safer than crops that have not been genetically improved.
“There has never been a single documented case of genetically improved crops harming any person or animal,” Miller said. “To the contrary, biotechnology has allowed farmers to grow more nutritious, healthy, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, and fungus-resistant crops without using nearly as many environmentally threatening chemicals.”
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
For more information …
“California Farm Bureau Friday Review,” August 25, 2006, http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/cfbf/fridayreview/082506.htm
“Bill regulating seeds returns to Senate,” Eureka Reporter, August 30, 2006, http://www.eurekareporter.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?ArticleID=14403
Nearly 100 documents on biotech agriculture and genetic engineering are available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.policybot.org and select the topic/subtopic combination Agriculture/Biotech and GMO.