(Beyond Pesticides, January 24, 2008) The first state bill on genetically engineered (GE) crops passed through its first committee in February, 2007, and the latest revision is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow, January 24. While AB 541 has been pared down considerably from its first and most progressive incarnation, it includes two very important measures to protect farmers whose crops are contaminated by nearby GE fields.
The first provision states, “A farmer is not liable for the breach of a seed contract or for patent infringement if a product, in which the seed labeler, or patent holder or licensee, has rights, is possessed by the farmer or found on real property owned or occupied by the farmer and the presence of the product is de minimis or not intended by the farmer.” A frequent criticism of Monsanto and the company’s overwhelming market share of seed is its tendency to sue farmers who did not plant GE seed, but whose fields were contaminated by a neighbor’s GE variety. In a 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety, Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell said, “These lawsuits and settlements are nothing less than corporate extortion of American Farmers.” (See Daily News from January 27, 2005 for more information on such “breach of contract” suits.)
The second provision of AB 541 calls for the establishment of official protocol for patent holders to follow when collecting samples for such a “breach of contract” investigation. That protocol requires the patent holder to “Notify the farmer in writing of the allegation that breach of contract or patent infringement has ocurred and request permission to enter upon the farmer’s land” and to “Obtain the written permission of the farmer.” Furthermore, costs incurred in the collection of evidence are paid by the patent holder, and further protocol for sampling procedures may be established.
This revision is downsized from its 2007 version, which, in addition to protecting farmers from suit, included provisions that gave farmers compensation for losses due to GE contamination, established a GE crop notification process to enable farmers to trace contamination to the manufacturer, and prohibited open-field pharmaceutical GE crop production. However, the current version has won the support of the California Farm Bureau, which has never before endorsed GE legislation in the state. To follow the legislation’s history, click here, or view the summary and sample support letter by Californians for GE-Free Agriculture.
TAKE ACTION: If you live in California, contact your Assembly Member no later than Friday, January 25th, by fax or phone. You can find contact information at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/yourleg.html.
Source: The Ethicurean