Seed Legislation

Analysis:

The Associated Press story that ran in the Grand Rapids Press did a good job of providing multiple perspectives on this new legislation introduced by Norton Shores legislator, Republican Gerald Van Woerkom. The story is framed in such a way as to pit organic farmers against farmers who use genetically modified seeds. The article also cites two organizations that are siding with farmers, the Michigan Farm Bureau siding with the use of GMO seeds and the Center for Food Safety siding with organic farmers.

Readers would not learn much from this article as it basically just provides both sides of the issue an opportunity to make claims, but there is no real verification of claims from either side. The article does mention that other states and communities have passed some legislation preventing GMO seeds from being used, but does not explore why these states have done so. Another issue that is not discussed is who is lobbying the state legislature, nor the amount of money being spent on this issue. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the Michigan Farm Bureau was the 40th largest campaign contributor in the 2004 Michigan elections, contributing $142,000 dollars to candidates.

Story:

Seeds of conflict take root in debate over Michigan farming bill

DAVID EGGERT

LANSING, Michigan (AP) – Food is their livelihood.

But for Michelle Lutz, an organic vegetable farmer, and Herb Smith, a planter of genetically modified soybeans, the job requires more these days than simply tending their fields in St. Clair and Monroe counties.

They’re on opposite sides of a budding battle in Lansing over legislation that pits natural, chemical-free crops against genetically engineered seeds. The bill not only is prompting a basic fight for economic viability among growers, it’s raising questions about food safety and who should regulate it.

“We give people a unique relationship with their food,” said the 34-year-old Lutz, whose 80-acre organic farm 55 miles north of Detroit ships fresh produce to 1,000 families every week from June through October. “They get to know who, how, why, where and when.”

Lutz is worried, however, about legislation in the state Senate that would prevent local governments from barring the planting of seeds, including genetically modified crops. Pollen from farms with genetically modified crops can drift onto her Yale-area farm and corrupt the “organic” status of her food, she says.

Five California counties and cities have restricted growing genetically modified organisms since 2004. Fourteen states have since passed laws pre-empting similar measures in their backyards, prodded by large seed companies and an increasing number of farmers who plant their genetically modified products.

Smith, who farms 900 acres near Temperance, says he supports the Senate bill because he could keep planting his engineered soybeans – which have received federal approval – without intrusion from local governments. Because the soybeans are engineered to specifically resist a cheaper weed killer, Smith says he saves about $20 an acre by not using conventional herbicides.

“I wouldn’t sell you stuff out of here that I didn’t think was safe,” said Smith, 76, who first planted genetically modified soybeans in 1996.

Up to 85 percent of U.S. soybeans are genetically modified along with 45 percent of corn. It’s estimated that 70 percent of processed foods on U.S. grocery shelves contain genetically modified ingredients.

“I’m not afraid of change. I’m not afraid of GMOs,” Smith said. “I’m concerned that well-meaning people will pass rules that will destroy farming as we know it.”

Critics worry that so-called “frankenfoods” pose allergy risks to humans, contaminate the natural ecosystem, lead to more chemical spraying and create other unknown, long-term health dangers. Another big concern is government oversight.

Douglas Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lets the agricultural industry decide how best to test the safety of genetically modified seeds.

“It is a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house,” said Gurian-Sherman, a former Environmental Protection Agency scientist who recently testified before a Senate panel in Lansing. Since there are few federal regulations, he says, “the state and local jurisdictions are necessary to protect the public and send a message to Washington that they need to do a better job.”

The bill’s sponsor in the state Senate, Republican Gerald Van Woerkom of Norton Shores, says genetically modified crops generally benefit society by reducing the amount of chemicals in the environment, among other things. But he wants his committee to hold off on voting on the measure until he looks into Gurian-Sherman’s testimony questioning federal oversight.

The Michigan Farm Bureau and other backers of the bill say safety fears are unfounded and federal officials have created proper regulatory checkpoints. Biotechnology cuts down on the use of herbicides and pesticides, which saves fuel and labor costs. It also makes drought-resistant crops that grow faster, produces better yields and reduces greenhouse gases, they argue.

Opponents say the bill isn’t necessary because local governments in Michigan haven’t passed rules against genetically modified crops. Yet farmers, feeling outnumbered as urban sprawl reaches their communities, think it’s only a matter of time before township boards and county commissions meddle in their seed choices.

Tonia Ritter, legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, says the emotional issue has split members of her group.

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Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org