The Sacramento (California) Bee (pg. D2), September 2, 2006


Proposed law would have barred local leaders from nixing modified seeds.

By Jim Downing

Environmental and organic farming groups on Friday cheered the demise of legislation that would have prevented local governments from regulating genetically modified crops.

Senate Bill 1056, sponsored by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, was introduced last year after three California counties effectively prohibited the farming of biotech crops. The bill passed the Assembly but did not reach the Senate floor for a final vote before the legislative session ended at midnight Thursday.

The measure's failure marks a change of momentum in the battle over controls on genetically modified crops.

In 2004, voters in Mendocino, Trinity and Marin counties banned biotech crops within their borders. At the same time, a countermovement to prevent such local regulation emerged.

Ballot measures to ban biotech crops failed in Humboldt, San Luis Obispo, Butte and Sonoma counties, while several county governments officially endorsed agricultural biotechnology.

Beginning in late 2004, bills similar to SB 1056 were introduced in many state legislatures across the country. Since 2005, at least 14 states have passed such legislation, according to Environmental Commons, a nonprofit group that tracks legislation on agricultural biotechnology.

Recently, however, bills in Nebraska, Missouri and North Carolina -- and now California -- have not passed.

Supporters of the California bill had argued that existing federal regulation of genetically modified crops is adequate, that a patchwork of local regulations would make compliance difficult for farmers with operations in more than one county, and that any additional restrictions hurt California growers in national and global markets.

"If our farmers are going to be competitive with other states and other countries... they need to have all the tools available," said the California Farm Bureau Federation's administrator, George Gomes. He said it's likely the bill will be reintroduced in the next legislative session.

Opponents of SB 1056 contended that federal regulations do not do enough to keep both experimental and production plots of genetically modified crops from contaminating other farm fields as well as the surrounding environment. In the absence of state regulations, they said, local jurisdictions should have the right to impose tighter restrictions.

On Friday, several groups that fought the bill said they thought its failure opens an opportunity to push for tougher state controls on genetically modified crops, such as public notice requirements when the crops are planted and rules making farmers liable if their crops contaminate a non-genetically modified field.

The Bee's Jim Downing can be reached at (916) 321-1065 or

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