SB777... Genetically Engineered Food Fight Comes to Michigan!

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 02/15/2012 - 8:04pm.



Detroit - A bill waiting in Lansing could spell trouble for local farmers. It would squash any community challenge against the expansion of genetically modified organisms (GMO). ~ Related article - 40 States Prohibited From Banning GMOs!

Sen. Bill 777, which has been in the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Tourism Committee since Sept of 2005, seeks to remove...

“any authority local governments may have to adopt and enforce ordinances that prohibit or regulate the labeling, sale, storage, transportation, distribution, use, or planting of agricultural, vegetable, flower or forest tree seeds.”

The bill, if passed, would make Michigan the 15th state to pass sweeping legislation that would clear the way for the expansion of the use of GMO seeds in Michigan farms.

“The bill seeks to prevent anti-GMO laws,” said Claire O’Leary a food activist and member of the Sierra Club National Genetically Engineering Committee. “This is a response on the part of biotech companies to push back against successful voter initiative and prevent any attempt to ban technology used in fields.”

One such company is the biotech giant Monsanto, the major producer of genetically modified seeds in America.

Last year Monsanto headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri postponed the sale of genetically modified wheat after a successful opposition led to a 25 percent drop in demand for wheat from consumers.

The company has spent millions developing GM wheat and said it would continue research to introduce other forms of seeds.

Jeff Cobb legislative aid to GOP Sen. Gerald Van Woerkom sponsor of the legislation said even though Monsanto would be happy with the Michigan bill, the company is not behind it.

“I’m sure Monsanto supports the bill but we did not do it on behalf of Monsanto,” Cobb said. “We want to maintain the status quo so farmers can use GM seeds.”

Cobb said his boss feels local governments do not have the scientific capacity to determine the safety of GM seeds.

“There is already a process in place to regulate these types of seeds. That is [done by] the federal government,” Cobb said.

The Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture are the three government entities that have regulatory powers over the use of GMO seeds, Cobb said. “We don’t think local government is the best place to do this.”

O’Leary, who testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee, disagrees.

“I do not see how SB 777 furthers a public interest agenda,” O’Leary said. “Can you explain this to me?”

She said the bill originates from the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC which passed a resolution called “Biotechnology State Uniformity.”

On its website, the national group said it membership is open to state lawmakers and that it seeks to promote the principles of federalism, free market enterprise amongst other things.

“These seed preemption bills should remind us all of the notorious tobacco preemption laws that have been passed that prevent local control of fertilizers, including sewage sludge,” O’Leary said in her testimony. “These laws seem to favor industry. Once they passed into law, it can take citizens several years to restore their rights to protect their health from environmental contaminants.”

Genetic engineering is a process where genes from one organism are moved into another. In the case of genetically engineered foods, genes from bacteria or other plans or organisms placed in crops. Soybeans, cotton, corn, rice, sugar beets, canola, and potatoes are the predominant crop plants being engineered.

O’Leary said about 90 percent of soy in Michigan is genetically engineered. This year alone about 32 percent of corn was reportedly genetically engineered.

With 125 diverse food crops, Michigan is the second largest agricultural state.

“A lot of people are choosing not to eat GMOs.”

Nationally, critics are worried that genetically modified foods are still not required to pass pre-market safety testing., a website campaigning against GMO, posted a letter from FDA scientist, Dr. Gerald Guest in response to a question on how the agency should regulate genetically modified plants.

“I and other scientists at the Center for Veterinary Medicine have concluded that there is ample scientific justification to support a pre-market review of these products. As you state in the notice, the new methods of genetic modification permit the introduction of genes from a wider range of sources than possible by traditional breeding. The FDA will be confronted with new plant constituents that could be of toxicological or environmental concern.”

Peter Jenkins, attorney and policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety (CFS) in Washington DC said organic and local farmers have had a bad experience with GM seeds. “They have been planted all over the country without concern for contamination of other crops,” Jenkins said. “As a result there has been some loss of market.” With the Michigan bill, Jenkins said he foresees a loss of market for organic farmers here.

“We have a very broad network of people who are concerned about maintaining governmental powers at the lowest levels instead of the highest levels,” Jenkins said. “What is happening is that some conservative groups are working with biotech companies to get a uniform bill across the country.”

Jenkins cited California, where groups such as the Native Plant Society are fighting against similar legislation.

Marty Heller, a research specialist at the C.S. Mott Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University, said SB 777 “Is not necessarily looking out for the well-being of Michigan citizens.”

Heller said the bill is largely supporting particular interest groups. Even farmers that are using GM seeds are taking the hit from biotech companies.

Stephen Leahy with IPS news service reported about Kem Ralph of Convington, Tennessee who is believed to be the first farmer to go to jail for saving and replanting Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy seed in 1998.

Monsanto prohibits farmers from saving seed from varieties that have been genetically engineered to kill bugs, Leahy reported.

Ralph spent four months behind bars and asked to pay a fine of $1.8 million.

“Monsanto’s business plan for GE crops depends on suing farmers,” CFS legal director Joe Mendelson told IPS.

CFS concluded a study, “Monsanto v.s. U.S. Farmers,” stating that the courts have awarded Monsanto more than $15 million.

Ann Arbor Democratic Senator Liz Brater who is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee is opposed to the bill.

However Cobb said other committee members, Sen. Judson Gilbert (R-Algonac), Sen. Ron Jelinek (R-Three Oaks) and Samuel “Buzz” Thomas (D-Detroit) will support the bill because they have worked together to pass other legislations before.

“Senator Brater would be the only one to vote against it. She’s told me she is not a big fan of GMO’s seeds,” Cobb said.

Thomas, who is a member of the Detroit delegation, did not return a call placed to his cell phone.


Bankole Thompson - February 15, 2012 - posted at MichiganCitizen


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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Wed, 02/15/2012 - 8:04pm.