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September 3, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: In California, a proposed state law lapsed
without a Senate vote Sept. 2, ending, at least for now, a campaign
by agribusiness corporations to outlaw a precautionary approach to
genetically modified crops.]

By Bert Muhly

[RPR introduction: This article describes California Senate Bill 1056,
an attempt by agribusiness firms to pass a state law preempting county
ordinances that have banned genetically modified crops in Marin,
Mendocino, Trinity and Santa Cruz counties. Senate Bill 1056 was
passed by the Assembly but failed in the Senate Sept. 2.)

It is officially recorded as Senate Bill 1056, but it is popularly
known in the halls of the California State Legislature as the Monsanto
Bill as it streaks along a well-greased track through the legislative
process toward Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for signing, guided
by its handpicked author, state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter.

It is called the Monsanto Bill because it was apparently introduced at
the behest of the corporate agribusiness giant Monsanto, whose
objective is to continue its presently unregulated and unaccountable
practices of genetically engineering foods in California.

If SB 1056 is enacted, it would prevent local governments from
legislating against genetically modified crops, in spite of
indisputable proof that the federal government and state government
have heretofore defaulted in the responsibility of each to assure the
protection of the health, safety and general welfare of the people.

The proof is contained in the extremely well researched 56-page
report to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors by the Genetic
Engineering GE Subcommittee of the Public Health Commission of the
County of Santa Cruz. The report's findings and recommendations caused
the board, on June 20, to approve unanimously an ordinance that
established a precautionary moratorium prohibiting the planting and
production of genetically engineered crops in Santa Cruz County.

The GE report to the board was the result of a 10-month study by the
aforementioned subcommittee. The 14 members of the subcommittee were
picked from diverse sectors of county agricultural interests and
qualified members of academia to undertake the required research. The
report includes findings that emphatically challenge assertions by
supporters of the Monsanto Bill who claim that regulation by local
government is unnecessary because the industry is already highly
scrutinized by the federal government. See Santa Cruz Sentinel,
Saturday, Aug. 26, page A10, a report by Kimberly Geiger, under the
headline, "Bill would ban local rules on bioengineered crops."

Critical issues of concern that led the GE subcommittee to recommend
the countywide adoption of a precautionary moratorium, which is in
direct opposition to the supporters of SB 1056, are as follows, taken
directly from the executive summary of their report.

** Inadequate regulatory monitoring and oversight of genetically
engineered crops at the federal and state level to ensure public
health and environmental safety. A recent audit conducted by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's inspector general found that the agency is
not living up to its own protocols for GE crop regulation. The report
found that the USDA did not know the location of many of the GE test
sites being used; some GE test crops, including drug-containing crops,
remained the test fields and contaminated subsequent harvests; and
some crops not approved for human consumption have found their way in
to the food supply.

** Health testing of the effects of exposure to GE organisms is not
required by any government agency. The lack of comprehensive safety
testing leaves a potentially dangerous scientific void in the
knowledge available about the short- and long-term health effects of
GE foods.

** Farmers and gardeners who choose not to grow GE crops have no legal
recourse if contaminated by GE pollen or seeds.

** There is no legal requirement to label GE seeds or rootstock, thus
eliminating farmers' or gardeners' choices.

** Adequate safeguards do not exist to prevent GE contamination of
non-GE crops plants, insects, domesticated animals, wild life and wild
lands, that can result from forces of nature and human causes. Once GE
pollen is released into the environment, there is no known ability to
reverse the process. The resulting impacts on ecosystems are unknown.

The Santa Cruz study and the report clearly exposes the GE issue as
more of a public health issue than an agricultural issue, certainly of
a magnitude not to be summarily handed over the domains of corporate
agribusiness and/or the California Farm Bureau Federation.

At the Assembly Agriculture Committee hearing on June 26, those of us
from Santa Cruz among the overflow crowd from throughout the state
were there in opposition to the bill. Our testimony was dismissed by
the committee chairwoman as being irrelevant to the issues presented
by the content of SB 1056. As a retired practitioner and teacher of
urban and regional planning, and as a former mayor and city
councilman, I was told by the chairwoman that I could only state my
name and whether I was for or against the bill, while I was trying to
support testimony of the legislative representatives from the League
of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties,
who have consistently been in opposition to the bill because of its
ill-thought-out potential negative impacts on zoning and related local
regulatory ordinances.

Although the Santa Cruz County delegation was not allowed to testify
at this so-called "hearing," we distributed copies of this report, or
the executive summary thereof, to each member of the Assembly
Agriculture Committee before early August, when they voted the bill
out of the Assembly committee. Obviously, they were not inclined the
read the material, since six committee members were co-authors of the

On Aug. 24, the Assembly voted for passage of the bill 51-24.
Assemblyman John Laird should be given great credit and thanks for his
vigorous opposition to the bill. He garnered at least 24 votes to slow
down the Monsanto Express heading full throttle toward Gov.
Schwarzenegger's office. As may be expected, Florez, the author of the
bill, has already received assurance from the governor's office that
Schwarzenegger will sign the bill. But the governor and his staff will
have every opportunity to read the full Santa Cruz report before the
bill reaches his desk. And if he should then wish to take a
responsible position on this industry-generated bill, he would be wise
to tell Sen. Florez to yank the bill from the Senate floor and to read
the Santa Cruz GE report in its entirety. He should then advise Sen.
Florez that if confronted with the need to veto the bill, he will
include in his veto message this belief, borrowed from the Santa Cruz
Health Commission report.

"It is the responsibility and purview of the State of California to
establish regulatory oversight to ensure public and environmental
health and safety, which, to this date, the State has clearly not
done. In the absence of that oversight every county and every city of
California has the right and responsibility to take action by
implementing a Precautionary Moratorium that protects the health of
each county and city and its residents, and in doing so, sends a
strong message to the State to follow suit."


Bert Muhly, a former Santa Cruz mayor, is a Santa Cruz resident.

Copyright 1999-2006 Santa Cruz Sentinel.