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California legislature passes bill protecting farmers against “Monsanto lawsuits”

mardi 2 septembre 2008 par anik

First State Bill Regarding Genetically Engineered Crops Awaits Governor’s Signature

August 31, 2008 – A landmark piece of legislation protecting California’s farmers from crippling lawsuits was passed by the State Assembly on August 30, 2008. The bill, AB 541 (Huffman, D-Marin/Sonoma), has passed both houses of the Legislature with strong bipartisan support and is now headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature. The bill is sponsored by diverse organizations, some of whom are traditionally opposed on farm issues, and it is the first bill passed by the California legislature that brings much-needed regulation to genetically engineered (GE) crops.

"I am very pleased that my office, working with the stakeholders on both sides of this historically divisive issue, was able to find common ground and pass California’s first legislation on genetic engineered crops," stated Assemblymember Huffman. "While there is still work to be done on other aspects of genetic engineering, AB 541 is an important step in establishing basic protections for California’s farmers."

AB 541 enacts protections against lawsuits brought against California farmers who have not been able to prevent the inevitable – the drift of GE pollen or seed onto their land and the subsequent contamination of their non-GE crops. Currently, farmers with crops that become contaminated by patented seeds or pollen have been the target of harassing lawsuits brought by biotech patent holders, particularly Monsanto. The bill also establishes a mandatory crop sampling protocol to prevent biotech companies that are investigating alleged violations from sampling crops without the explicit permission of farmers.

AB 541 has the support of organizations traditionally on opposite sides of the GE issue, and its sponsors are confident that the Governor will sign it. The bill was sponsored by a thirteen-member coalition including Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Earthbound Farm, California Certified Organic Farmers, United Natural Foods Inc., as well as California Farmers Union and the California Farm Bureau, and several others.

AB 541 is a move in the right direction,” stated Renata Brillinger, director of the Genetic Engineering Policy Project, the coalition of organic and conventional farmers, food industry, environmental, and faith organizations sponsoring AB 541. “It provides much needed protection for farmers who typically lack the resources to fight lawsuits brought by biotech conglomerates.”

For a copy of AB 541, please go to : www.leginfo.ca.gov

Many thanks to the co-sponsors of AB 541 for their funding, advocacy, strategic, legal, and moral support over the past two years it has taken to win this bill. Their commitment to this issue, and to protecting farmers and the integrity of California agriculture, is one of the reasons we are on the verge of having California’s first progressive GE law.

The Genetic Engineering Policy Project is a lobbying coalition of the following organizations and businesses :

California Certified Organic Farmers

California Church IMPACT

Center for Food Safety

Center for Environmental Health

Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Earthbound Farm

Ecological Farming Association

Environment California

Good Earth Natural Foods

Occidental Arts & Ecology Center

Oakland Institute

Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Co-op

Pesticide Action Network North America

United Natural Foods, Inc.

SUPPORT AB 541

Assemblymember Huffman announcing the introduction of AB 541 in February 2007. Also present were supporters from California Certified Organic Farmers, Earthbound Farm and the Sierra Club.
BACKGROUND ON AB 541

AB 541 represents a compromise solution to the controversial GE issue. Assemblymember Huffman introduced a much more comprehensive bill in 2007 that was held over in the Assembly Agriculture Committee. Since then, stakeholders have been working very hard to arrive at a compromise on the bill. AB 541 as currently amended represents the fruit of those negotiations. It has the support of the bill’s thirteen co-sponsors (the Genetic Engineering Policy Project) as well as the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The Issues

GE and non-GE plants can cross-pollinate and crops can be mixed together during harvest, handling and processing. It is widely known that it is virtually impossible in every case to prevent contamination of non-GE crops by patented GE plants or seeds.

In spite of the uncontrollability of genetic contamination, farmers contaminated by GE crops can be and have been sued by GE manufacturers for patent infringement.

Existing Law

The State of California has no state laws or regulations governing GE crop production. In 2000, the legislature created a California Biotechnology Task Force. It disbanded without making any recommendations for state oversight. Four California counties have enacted local restrictions on GE crops, and a state pre-emption bill (SB 1056) to override these local laws failed in 2006. In spite of their pervasiveness in food and agriculture, the federal government has no mandatory human or environmental safety testing requirements for GE crops or food.

The Solution

AB 541 protects California farmers in these ways :

1. Protects farmers unknowingly contaminated by GE crops from patent infringement lawsuits by biotechnology corporations.

2. Establishes a mandatory crop sampling protocol to be used by patent holders when investigating farmers they believe may have violated patents or seed contracts. This protocol would require the farmer’s written permission for sampling, and provide for the option of the presence of a designee of the Secretary of Agriculture to accompany the patent holder during the sampling and collect duplicate samples for independent verification if requested by either party.

AB 541 levels the playing field for farmers accused by Monsanto and others of contract violations, and discourages their practice of sampling crops without explicit permission from farmers and then prosecuting based on unverifiable testing results.

A full copy of the bill as currently amended can be found at the following web site :

www.legislature.ca.gov

AB 541 Supporters

California Certified Organic Farmers

California Farm Bureau Federation

California Council of Churches IMPACT

California Farmers Union

California Seed Association

Center for Food Safety

Center for Environmental Health

Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Earthbound Farm

Occidental Arts and Ecology Center

Natural Products Association West

Pesticide Action Network North America

United Natural Foods Inc.

— and many others

The Original Bill

The original AB 541 introduced in February 2007 included several other elements that have been removed in order to reach the agreement with opponents. It would have established of the country’s first system of notification for the locations of GE crops ; confined experimental pharmaceutical-producing crops to greenhouses to protect the food system from contamination ; and, clarified that the GE crop manufacturer, and not farmers, is liable in the event of contamination. Assemblymember Huffman and the bill’s sponsors remain concerned about these issues and committed to pursuing more protections in the future.


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