(Beyond Pesticides, April 14, 2008) After almost a year and a half of debate on genetically engineered (GE) crops, the Maine Legislature passed a bill last week to protect farmers from genetic trespass. According to Protect Maine Farmers, the bill prevents lawsuits for patent infringement against farmers who unintentionally end up with GE material in their crops; ensures lawsuits that do occur will be held in the state of Maine; and, directs the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources to develop and implement specific practices, or Best Management Practices, for growing GE crops. One component of the bill that was supported by many Maine farmers but failed would have required all businesses selling GE seeds in Maine to report their annual sales data to the Maine Commissioner of Agriculture.
“Maine’s farmers now have some substantial assurance that if they save seed that has been contaminated by [GE] varieties, they are not at risk for a lawsuit,” states Logan Perkins, the lead organizer for Protect Maine Farmers. “Hopefully, the development of these Best Management Practices will give farmers the information they need to make good decisions about how to protect themselves, their livelihoods and their neighbors when using [GE] crops.” North Dakota, South Dakota and Indiana have already passed similar legislation.
The Bangor Daily News states that “In the 10 years that GE crops have been grown in Maine, there have been non GE-related lawsuits [in the state].” But, there have been more than 90 GE-based lawsuits filed against 147 farmers in 25 states, according to the Center for Food Safety.
The passage of the bill comes just weeks after the town of Montville passed an ordinance that makes it “unlawful for a person, partnership, firm, or organization of any kind to produce genetically modified organisms in the Town of Montville for a period of ten years.” For those residents that are currently growing GE crops, they have two years to phase them out. This is the first of such ordinances to be passed outside of California. In 2005, town officials in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport prevented voters from on a similar ban, stating that the ordinance conflicts with Maine’s right-to-farm law. Brooklin and Liberty passed non-binding ordinances establishing their towns as “GE Free Zones.”
More and more GE crops are being grown around the world. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications reports that biotech crops grew by 30 million acres, or 12 percent, in 2007 for a total of 282.4 million acres worldwide. Also astounding is the fact that 2 million more farmers planted biotech crops last year to total 12 million farmers globally. Notably, 9 out of 10, or 11 million of these farmers, are resource-poor farmers. In fact, the number of developing countries (12) planting biotech crops surpassed the number of industrialized countries (11), and the growth rate in the developing world was three times that of industrialized nations (21 percent compared to 6 percent.)
An organic dairy farmer thinks that legislation needs to go a step farther, “It’s good to know that I will not be sued for saving my seeds, but I would like to see a way to make the companies take responsibility for the losses this technology can cause when it contaminates my crops.”
There are many problems with GE crops as they are known to lead to insect resistance, create superweeds, contaminate other plants from the same species through pollen drift, harm human health, wildlife and other non-target organisms, contaminate soil, contain hidden allergens, negate religious and moral considerations, lead to antibiotic resistance, and unreasonable business contracts with farmers.