The MOF&G Online
Brooklin, Maine, Votes to be GMO-Free Zone
Kennebunk, Kennebunkport Also Consider PetitionsOn April 2, 2005, Brooklin became the first Maine town to address genetic engineering at a town meeting when voters passed the following warrant article: "Shall the town vote to voluntarily protect its agriculture and marine economies, environment and private property from irreversible Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) contamination by declaring Brooklin a GMO-free zone?"
Rob Fish of GE Free Maine says that this is the 98th resolution opposing genetic engineering to be passed in New England; the first to declare a voluntary moratorium on planting GMOs; and the first of any kind on the GMO issue by a municipality in Maine. The article was developed by local residents who later sought assistance from GE Free Maine.
According to Brooklin resident Marilyn Anderson, who, with Olenka Folda, Barbara Graves and Chip Angell, presented the petition with the required number of voter signatures, this is not a town ordinance, but a declaration of a position about preserving the environment, human health and food by resisting irreversible GMO contamination. The article will not restrict businesses from selling, serving or marketing GMO products and will not restrict laboratory research.
GE Free Maine is working with residents in Maine municipalities to bring the question of how to deal with GE crops to town meetings. According to Meg Gilmartin, cofounder of GE Free Maine, "Towns have a responsibility to protect the rights of farmers and landowners who choose not to grow [GE crops] on their land. Town meeting is the purest of our democratic institutions, a place where the issue can be decided face-to-face by local residents without the interference of paid lobbyists."
GE Free Maine stayed away from the Brooklin town meeting at the request of local residents, who wanted to discuss the issue on their own. The vote did attract outside opponents, however. Doug Johnson, a professional lobbyist for the biotech industry and a partner in biotechnology public relations firm GreenTree Communication, attended the meeting and sought to speak. Residents objected to his outside interference. Brooklin resident John Bradford, a former Republican legislator from Massachusetts, moved that Johnson be given the floor, but the town voted down the motion. Several voters stated, "We are educated and intelligent people - we don't need slick, highly paid corporate lobbyists coming in here trying to tell us what to do."
Two other GE-related ordinances considered this spring, in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport were submitted by MOFGA's York County chapter representative Christine Baker. Although the Kennebunk petition contained nearly 600 signatures-about 150 more than needed--selectmen rejected the ordinance after getting a written report from the Maine Department of Agriculture saying that such a moratorium would violate Maine's Right To Farm Law. Kennebunkport selectmen voted to consider the issue again at its April 14 meeting, then, at that meeting, tabled the issue until fall.
The petition in Brooklin differed from those in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. Brooklin asked for a resolution/declaration of the desire of the community be a GE Free Zone; the others would have made growing GE crops illegal.
The Department of Agriculture claims that using GE crops constitutes Best Management Practices, so towns cannot impose a moratorium on planting them. Ned Porter, Maine's deputy agriculture commissioner, said, "GE varieties have been approved [by the FDA] for general release and, as such, are no different than hybrid varieties." [See the Department of Agriculture's letter, below.]
The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association believes that towns should be free to enact bans or resolutions if they want, but this is not a focus of MOFGA's efforts and resources. The board of directors of MOFGA, which has been working with GE Free Maine on a case-by-case basis, strongly objected to the letter from the Department of Agriculture suggesting that local bans might be barred by the Right to Farm law. This letter was wrong and misguided, MOFGA believes. Its board has authorized executive director Russell Libby to ask the Governor for a meeting to discuss the agriculture department's position on Kennebunk and the Right to Farm law.
Sources: Press Release, GE Free Maine, 207-244-0908; email@example.com; www.gefreemaine.org; personal communication with Sharon Tisher, Chair, MOFGA's public policy committee; "GE Free Maine loses bid," by Sharon Kiley Mack, Saturday, March 26, 2005; Bangor Daily News; "GE-free group supports ban in Brooklin," by Sharon Kiley Mack, Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Bangor Daily News.
The following letter was received by the towns of Kennebunkport and Kennebunk after they received proposals for moratoriums on GE crops.
March 9, 2005
April Dufoe, Town Clerk
Dear Ms. Dufoe
Thanks you for submitting the proposed ordinance regarding genetically engineering organisms to the Department as required by 17. M.R.S.A. Section 2805, Subsection 4.
The Department has reviewed the proposed ordinance making it "unlawful to propagate, cultivate, raise or grow genetically engineered organisms" and determined that this ordinance would restrict or prohibit the use of best management practices in farming operations.
The Department reached this conclusion because crops developed by genetic engineering are deemed to be no different than crops developed by traditional breeding methods. Genetically engineered crops have been evaluated by several federal agencies responsible for their safety. One of these agencies, the Biotechnology and Regulatory Services (BRS), a unit of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, has determined that once a genetically engineered crop has met all the human and environmental safety requirements imposed by various federal agencies and deregulated by BRS, such crops require no more regulatory oversight than crops developed by traditional breeding methods. The Department concurs with this determination. Therefore the Department concludes that this ordinance would prohibit the use of a Best Management Practice, the planting of a crop with a beneficial trait developed by genetic engineering.
Please note that Title17 M.R.S.A. section 2805, Subsection 3-A, provides that a method of operation used by a farm located in an area where agricultural activities are permitted may not be found in violation of a municipal ordinance if the method of operation constitutes a Best Management Practice as determined by the Department. Since the Department made that determination in this case, the proposed ordinance may not be enforceable against farms using these practices.
Incidentally, the Department also believes that farmers who plant genetically engineered crops and those who plant traditionally bred crops can and should co-exist successfully, if both are considerate of the production decisions of the other. I have included a brochure published by the Department discussing practices that farming operations with differing marketing objectives can follow to coexist in Maine.
Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or need anything further from the Department on this matter.
Peter N. Mosher
cc. Robert Spear, Commissioner
GE News Briefs
· "While the discovery and adoption of GE crop technology has changed American agriculture in many ways, reducing overall pesticide use is not among them. The average acre planted to glyphosate-tolerant crops [Monsanto's Roundup] requires more and more help from other herbicides, a trend with serious environmental and economic implications." Source: Benbrook Consulting 2004 Technical Paper on USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service; Consumer Bytes #53, Organic Consumers Association, March 28, 2005;www.organicconsumers.org.
· A sixth province in Poland is banning GE crops, so roughly half of the agriculture of the nation is now GE-free. Meanwhile, Eastern Europe governments have announced implementation of the world's largest organic research budget. According to Janez Potocnik, the EU Commissioner for Research, "I believe that the importance of research into organic and low-input food production can be a perfect example of how science can unlock potentials for human well-being." Source: Organic Consumers Association, March 28, 2005; www.organicconsumers.org.
· Nearly a quarter of a million petition signatures opposing GE farming in Hokkaido, Japan, have been submitted to the local government. Of the 5,000 farmers in the region, only 10 (with backing from Monsanto) support GE crops. Source: Organic Consumers Association, March 28, 2005; www.organicconsumers.org.
· In Missouri, the USDA is on the brink of approving field tests of rice engineered with human genes. (Organic Consumers Association, March 28, 2005; www.organicconsumers.org) The Center for Food Safety (www.centerforfoodsafety.org) says that Ventria Biosciences, the pharmaceutical company that wants to plant the GE rice, tried to get permission to plant it in California in 2004, but rice farmers, environmentalists, consumers and legislators forced the Calif. Dept. of Food and Agriculture to delay a decision until a 2004 planting became impossible. Ventria expects less opposition in Missouri. (Regional Farm & Food Project, Spring 2005 Newsletter)
· On February 15, the Mexican government voted to legalize GE crops. GE crops had previously been banned there in order to prevent GE contamination of the world's most diverse, important and pure collection of corn varieties. Although surveys reveal the vast majority of Mexican citizens oppose the legalization of GE crops, intense pressure from the United States eventually overturned the ban. Monsanto, which owns the patents and distribution rights to 91% of GE seeds in the world, is now one of the leading advertisers in Mexico, second only to Coca-Cola. Source: Organic Bytes #52, Organic Consumers Assoc., March 11, 2005, www.organicconsumers.org/ge/ mexicoapprove022805.cfm.
· Southern U.S. cotton farmers are speaking out against Bt cotton, a plant genetically engineered to create its own pesticide to ward off bollworms. Although Bt cotton farmers are enjoying a decrease in bollworm damage, they say the plants are attracting other pests at a much higher rate. North Carolina State University released a study in March indicating that the state's Bt cotton fields have an average of three times more damage from stink bugs than do conventional cotton fields. Source: Organic Bytes #52, Organic Consumers Assoc., March 11, 2005; www.organicconsumers.org/clothes/ stinkbugs030905.cfm
· Swiss biotechnology company Syngenta AG mistakenly sold hundreds of tons of experimental GE corn seeds to U.S. buyers between 2001 and 2004, according to an AP article on Agri News. The unapproved seeds were planted in open fields for four years in four states before Syngenta acknowledged the mistake. Federal investigators claim there was no health or environmental risk, due to the seeds' similarities with another approved Syngenta product; critics say the breach shows the biotech industry cannot be trusted to keep GE organisms from entering the food supply. The USDA is investigating the case. Source: Agriculture Today, Maine Dept. of Ag., March 24, 2005, www.maine.gov/agriculture/ newsletter/nb14.htm . See also http://webstar.agrinews.com/agrinews/ 282901780440158.bsp.
· A fourth study in a four-year, large, farm-scale trial in Britain has shown that cultivating GE crops harms wildlife, report Steve Connor, Michael McCarthy and Colin Brown in The Independent ("The end for GM crops: Final British trial confirms threat to wildlife, March 22, 2005). The experiment found that GE oilseed rape fields harmed wildflowers, butterflies, bees and probably songbirds. The researchers said that herbicides used to spray GE rape killed such broad-leaved wild flowers as chickweed and fat hen, which feed skylarks, tree sparrows and bullfinches. They found similar numbers of weeds in GE and non-GE crop fields, but broad-leaved weeds such as chickweed, and bees and butterflies, were far fewer in the GE plots. Differences persisted even two years after the crop had been sown. Three previous trials with rape, corn and beets showed that growing GE rape and beets harmed wildlife more than growing conventional varieties. Researchers believe the differences are due to the herbicides and the timing of the farming. Results of this trial were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
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