Biogenetic Battle Brewing

By CMTA Staff

Capitol Update, July 15, 2005 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

A national backlash triggered by bans on genetically engineered crops and animals in three California counties have now "come full circle."

Since late last year, 14 states have passed bills that bar towns, cities and counties from regulating genetically engineered crops in response to first-in-the-nation bans on growing such plants by some of California’s counties.

California State Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter) is proposing legislation (SB 1056), which will undo the county controls by establishing state authority on the issue.  He maintains that it should be the state’s job to regulate crops by passing laws that affect everyone in California.  Otherwise, the state will end up with a patchwork of standards if all 58 counties adopt different rules.  He stated, "There should be some uniformity and conformity. We have statewide standards for pesticide, fertilizer and labor law."  He believes genetically modified crops offer a solution to reducing the use of pesticides, protecting farm workers and reducing dust in the air.

Genetically modified crops are grown from seeds genetically engineered with bacteria genes to make the plants resistant to weed killers or insects.  Proponents argue that genetic engineering increases farm production and streamlines farming costs.

Mendocino, Trinity and Marin counties have passed laws banning the use of genetically altered seeds, while voters in Humboldt, San Luis Obispo and Butte counties rejected similar ballot measures.  Sonoma County residents will vote on a similar ban in November.

In addition to a number of environmental groups, the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties oppose the Florez bill in its current form.  They believe that the language pre-empts them from placing any restriction on field crops and goes beyond the biotech issue.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has argued that the approved crops (soy, corn and papaya) are substantially equivalent to the naturally grown varieties and don’t need further regulation.

Florez is asking for a special Assembly Agricultural Committee hearing on his proposal next month.
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