Landmark Liability Bill Moves on in California
"Sixty-five percent of [California's rice] goes to Japan, Taiwan and Korea””which all have restrictions on GE foods. If California's rice crop became contaminated with GE content, our export market would crumble." - Greg Massa, a rice grower with operations in Colusa and Glenn Counties
Genetic Contamination Protection for California Agricultural Industry
Moves Forward in State Legislature
Landmark Bill Provides Farmers and Processors Safety Net for "GMO" Damages
SACRAMENTO, CA ”” The Assembly Judiciary Committee today passed on a vote of 6-2 the Food Integrity and Farmer Protection Act, AB 984 (John Laird, D-Santa Cruz). Under this landmark legislation, California farmers, handlers and food processors will not have to suffer the legal and financial liability caused by the inadvertent contamination of crops by genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
"Currently, a simple spring breeze carrying GMOs could not only contaminate a non-GMO crop, it could wipe out entire agricultural industries," explained Assemblymember Laird. "This bill represents a reasonable approach to protecting agricultural diversity and economic strength. It will help farmers and processors who otherwise are without remedy should their crops get damaged by GMO contamination."
GMO, or genetically engineered (GE), contamination poses a particular threat to California farmers and food processors who export their products internationally. "More than one-third of the rice we produce here in California is exported," noted Greg Massa, a rice grower with operations in Colusa and Glenn Counties. "Sixty-five percent of it goes to Japan, Taiwan and Korea””which all have restrictions on GE foods. If California's rice crop became contaminated with GE content, our export market would crumble."
AB 984 shifts back to manufacturers liability for economic losses created by GMO contamination. To date, U.S. farmers have lost hundreds of millions of dollars because genetically engineered material has contaminated their crops. These losses have been disproportionately borne by farmers and crop handlers through no fault of their own.
Noting the risk to food processors, Nell Newman, founder of Newman's Own Organics, expressed strong support for AB 984. "Our customers expect that our products are free of GE material," said Newman. "It would be devastating if our products were unintentionally contaminated with GE."
"Contamination from genetically engineered crops and seeds has been scientifically proven," said Dr. David Schubert, professor of molecular biology at the Salk Institute. "GE crops have contaminated non-GE food crops and products through pollen drift, seed mixing and other unintended means."
In addition to direct losses in the marketplace, hundreds of farmers nationally have been threatened with lawsuits or sued by biotech companies for patent infringement often caused by the unintended presence of GE material. AB 984 also provides relief to California farmers facing lawsuits arising out of the unintended presence of engineered seeds and crops on their land.
"Farmers in my state are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell," said North Dakota farmer Tom Wiley. "With this bill, California has an opportunity to change course before it's too late to protect farmers."
The bill will be heard next in the Assembly Agriculture Committee on April 27, 2005.