US:Twenty-eight states make it illegal for counties and cities to pass seed laws

EXCERPT: “There is no looming threat that warrants forfeiting the independence of local agricultural communities in the form of sweeping language that eliminates all local authority governing one of our most valuable national resources,” says [Kristina] Hubbard of the Organic Seed Alliance.

Twenty-eight states make it illegal for counties and cities to pass seed laws

By Kristina Johnson
The Fern, August 17, 2017
https://thefern.org/ag_insider/twenty-eight-states-make-illegal-counties-cities-pass-seed-laws/

With little notice, more than two dozen state legislatures have passed “seed-preemption laws” designed to block counties and cities from adopting their own rules on the use of seeds, including bans on GMOs. Opponents say that there’s nothing more fundamental than a seed, and that now, in many parts of the country, decisions about what can be grown have been taken out of local control and put solely in the hands of the state.

“This bill should be viewed for what it is — a gag order on public debate,” says Kristina Hubbard, director of advocacy and communications at the Organic Seed Alliance, a national advocacy group, and a resident of Montana, which along with Texas passed a seed-preemption bill this year. “This thinly disguised attack on local democracy can be easily traced to out-of-state, corporate interests that want to quash local autonomy.”

Seed-preemption laws are part of a spate of legislative initiatives by industrial agriculture, including ag-gag laws passed in several states that legally prohibit outsiders from photographing farms, and “right-to-farm” laws that make it easier to snuff out complaints about animal welfare. The seed laws, critics say, are a related thrust meant to protect the interests of agro-chemical companies.

Nearly every seed-preemption law in the country borrows language from a 2013 model bill drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The council is “a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists,” essentially “voting as equals” with state legislators on bills, according to The Center for Media and Democracy. ALEC’s corporate members include the Koch brothers as well as some of the largest seed-chemical companies — Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont — which want to make sure GMO bans, like those enacted in Jackson County, Oregon, and Boulder County, Colorado, don’t become a trend.

Seed-preemption laws have been adopted in 28 states, including Oregon — one of the world’s top five seed-producing regions — California, Iowa, and Colorado. In Oregon, the bill was greenlighted in 2014 after Monsanto and Syngenta spent nearly $500,000 fighting a GMO ban in Jackson County. Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, and Syngenta also spent more than $6.9 million opposing anti-GMO rules in three Hawaiian counties, and thousands more in campaign donations. (These companies are also involved in mergers that, if approved, would create three seed-agrochemical giants.)

Montana and Texas were the latest states to join the seed-preemption club. Farming is the largest industry in Montana, and Texas is the third-largest agricultural state in terms of production, behind California and Iowa.

Language in the Texas version of the bill preempts not only local laws that affect seeds but also local laws that deal with “cultivating plants grown from seed.” In theory, that could extend to almost anything: what kinds of manure or fertilizer can be used, or whether a county can limit irrigation during a drought, says Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. Along with other activists, her organization was able to force an amendment to the Texas bill guaranteeing the right to impose local water restrictions. Still, the law’s wording remains uncomfortably open to interpretation, she says.

In both Montana and Texas, the laws passed with support from the state chapter of the Farm Bureau Federation — the nation’s largest farm-lobbying group — and other major ag groups, including the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Texas Seed Trade Alliance. In Texas, DuPont and Dow Chemical also joined the fight, publicly registering their support for the bill.

Echoing President Trump’s anti-regulatory rhetoric, preemption proponents argue that, fundamentally, seed-preemption laws are about cutting the red tape from around farmers’ throats. Supporters also contend that counties and cities don’t have the expertise or the resources to make sound scientific decisions about the safety or quality of seeds.

“We don’t believe the locals have the science that the state of Texas has,” said Jim Reaves, legislative director of the Texas Farm Bureau. “So we think it’s better held in the state’s hands. It will basically tell cities that if you have a problem with a certain seed, the state can ban it, but you can’t.”

Other preemption proponents claim that local seed rules would simply get too complicated, forcing growers to navigate conflicting laws in different counties. “Many of us farm fields in more than one county,” said Don Steinbeisser Jr., a Sidney, Montana, farmer who testified in support of his state’s bill at a legislative hearing this spring. “Having different rules in each county would make management a nightmare and add costs to the crops that we simply do not need and cannot afford.”

But critics of preemption laws, including farmers (organic and conventional) and some independent seed companies, are afraid of losing their legislative rights. They claim something far more serious than a single farmer’s crop is at stake.

“There is no looming threat that warrants forfeiting the independence of local agricultural communities in the form of sweeping language that eliminates all local authority governing one of our most valuable national resources,” says Hubbard of the Organic Seed Alliance.

Organic farmers can lose their crop if it becomes contaminated with genetically modified material. Even conventional farmers who rely on exports to Asia, where GMOs are banned by some countries, face risks from contamination. There are currently no plans to push for a GMO ban anywhere in Texas or Montana, and neither state requires companies to disclose the use of GMOs. (In Montana, at least, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, added an amendment to the preemption bill when he signed it, preserving the right of local governments to require that farmers notify their neighbors if they’re planting GMO seeds.) Yet critics of the preemption laws fear that they tie the hands of local governments, which will make it harder for communities to respond to problems in the future.

Still, the fight isn’t just about GMOs, says Judith McGeary, noting that seeds coated with neonicotinoids — a class of pesticides linked to colony collapse disorder in bees — are also at issue. Under the Texas bill, a local government can’t ban neonic seeds in order to protect pollinator insects, and in the current political climate, it’s hard to imagine that such a ban would happen on the state level.

“We have an extremely large state with an incredible diversity of agricultural practices and ecological conditions, and you’ve now hobbled any ability to address a problem that’s found in one local area,” says McGeary. “Until it’s a big enough issue for a state of 23 million to pay attention to through the state legislature, nothing is going to happen,” she says.

Flacking for GMOs: How the Biotech Industry Cultivates Positive Media—and Discourages Criticism

Sign Petition To President Obama: Veto DARK ACT

On July 14, the House of Representatives voted 306-117 to kill Vermont’s popular mandatory GMO food labeling law, which had already begun to force major junk food and beverage giants (Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Campbell’s, Dannon, Smuckers, Starbucks) to label their GMO-tainted products nationwide. 

As soon as President Obama signs the DARK Act, (or lets it take effect by not vetoing it) states will no longer have the right to mandate labeling of genetically engineered foods. That means that the 90 percent of consumers who want to know what they’re eating can now look forward, on a permanent basis, to what amounts to no labeling.                   What we will get, if anything, in a few years will be bogus Grocery Manufacturers Association trade-marked QR smart codes, or 1-800 numbers on processed food packages that will serve to keep consumers in the dark about Frankenfoods and their omnipresent toxins, while pretending to provide so-called “disclosure.”

But today, while the bill is still just a bill (and not a law), we need your signature.

If you haven’t already, please sign this White House petition today, asking Obama to veto the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.

Call the White House 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 to leave your comment!  The comment line is open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

Letter To Representative Rick Larsen – GMO Labeling Now

The House of Representatives will be voting (again) on GMO Labeling.  This letter, (see below) from an island resident, was sent to Congressman Rick Larsen, who represents us here in the San Juans.  His stance on GMOs, essentially, is that they are considered reasonably safe, with no proven harming effects; labeling is not necessary.  He needs to hear from us either with a phone call or an email/letter.  Use this letter or send your own.  Let him know that he needs to educate himself on the harm that GMO food is causing our environment, our food security, and our well being.  Tell him we want to know what is in the food we are buying – whether it contains GMO or not.                                His contact info:  larsen.house.gov

Congressman Larsen,

Here in the San Juan Islands many of your constituents have had the opportunity to educate ourselves about the impact of GMO’s on farming, the environment, and our health. Your recent response to me about this issue was pure Monsanto and Big Food rhetoric. As a life long democrat I am dismayed at your position.

Today I am contacting you about GMO’s again because last night the Senate passed the Roberts-Stabenow bill. The bill is intended to hide information (behind electronic codes) from consumers, not provide it—in plain English, on a label. The bill is intended to exempt the vast majority of GMOs from even having to be hidden behind codes, much less labeled in plain sight. The bill is voluntary—it contains no enforcement mechanism, no penalties for non-compliance. The 63 Senators supporting the Roberts-Stabenow DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act misrepresent this industry-written bill as a “uniform federal mandatory labeling solution.” The bill is a fraud!

The bill passed last night is an attack on democracy, an attack on states’ rights. It not only overturns Vermont’s carefully considered and fairly debated mandatory GMO labeling law, but as Sen. Bernie Sanders noted in his speech on the Senate floor, this bill overturns nearly 100 other state laws. This bill is not about what is best for our food security, environment, or our health. This bill is about millions of dollars spent by Monsanto and Big Food to buy our democracy!

The Roberts-Stabenow bill will now go back to the U.S. House where you represent me. I urge you to educate yourself on the full range of real impacts of GMO’s by looking further than the information supplied by lobbyists. I hope you will see the other side of this issue, the side nine out of 10 Americans and citizens in 64 countries are on.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senate Passes D.A.R.K. Act

Please note that Senators Murray and Cantwell supported consumers by voting “NO” on this bill.  Take a moment and send them a thank you.  Remember—this bill still has to make its way through the House, survive a full vote in Congress and be signed into law by President Obama. Let’s keep the Senators who voted with us by showing our thanks!  Senator Murray 202-224-2621, Senator Cantwell 202-224-3441

A few days ago the U.S. Senate passed what is being called the DARK Act that would nullify Vermont’s GE food labeling law – and any future attempts in other states for mandatory, on-package GE labeling legislation. This is a serious setback in transparency for informed food choices but we’re not giving up yet.

If this bill passes the House, it could go straight to President Obama for his signature. The President is our best hope to stop this bill. While campaigning for president, he said he stood with Americans in saying we have the right to know whether the food we’re eating has been genetically engineered. Please help us make sure he remembers the promise he made that helped get him elected.

Please call Congressman Rick Larsen and urge him to vote “no!”                             His phone in WA DC is 202.224.3121

Call the White House at 202-456-1111 (6-2 Pacific time).

Key points to make when you call:

  • The Food and Drug Administration says it would be difficult for any GE food to get labeled under the bill’s narrow definition of “bioengineering.”
  • Allowing QR codes or websites instead of on-package labeling discriminates against people without smart phones and is meant to avoid transparency.
  • Soy, corn and canola oil; sugar from GE sugar beets; glyphosate-ready crops; most Bt crops, and GE salmon could be exempt.
  • This bill tramples on states’ rights by revoking four state laws that were established democratically.
  • No penalties for non-compliance.

This watered down proposal would preempt four state labeling laws while not requiring any meaningful labeling at all.

Please call Rep. Rick Larsen and the President. Thank you!

Senate’s GMO Labeling Bill – Not A Good Deal!

This could be our last chance to save GMO labeling. Even if you’ve already called and written your Senators, PLEASE DO IT AGAIN. A vote could happen this week or next.

Senators Roberts (R-KS) and Stabenow (D-MI) have released their “compromise” GMO labeling bill and it’s bad. It creates a labeling scheme to immediately override democratically established GMO labeling laws in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, but would not require any labeling for 2 years, while USDA comes up with some vague labeling standard using discriminatory QR codes, websites or 800 numbers.

Call Sen. Patty Murray’s office at:
202-224-2621
(6 a.m. to 4 p.m. M-Th, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday)

Call Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office at:
202-224-3441
(5:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. M-F)

Thank them for their previous support for GE transparency.

Urge them to stand firm and vote NO on this proposal designed to bypass any real transparency.

Big Ag supports this compromise because it knows consumers don’t use QR codes and that “labeling” via QR codes really is no labeling at all.

Only 64 percent of Americans own a smartphone able to access QR codes. That means more than a third of all Americans would not be able to access GMO information under the Roberts-Stabenow “compromise.”

This bill has huge loopholes, exempting most GE foods from any labeling.

  • defines GE so narrowly that soy and canola oil, sugar from GE sugar beets, glyphosate-ready crops, and most Bt crops would be exempt
  • the definition of “bioengineering” is much weaker than FDA’s definition and global definitions
  • labeling would be exempt from rules on false and misleading claims
  • no penalties for non-compliance
  • it appears untrue that 25,000 more food products would be labeled

This watered down proposal is a world away from what nine of 10 Americans demand. It is designed to preempt four state labeling laws while not requiring any meaningful labeling at all.

Please call our senators.
Thank you,

GMO Free San Juans with copy from PCC Markets, Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network

Stop The DARK Act Now!

This just in from “Oregon Right To Know Team”

Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee voted 14-6 to pass the DARK Act (S. 2609), and now we’re hearing that this devastating legislation could reach the Senate floor between now and early April.
Monsanto’s dream bill already passed the House, so this Senate floor vote is critical if we want to stop the DARK Act from becoming law.

We need EVERY food activist to pick up the phone right away and dial 1-877-796-1949 to urge your Senators to VOTE NO on S. 2609.

We all know what’s at stake here: Under the DARK Act, it would be illegal for states to require GMO labeling, even though polls show that 93% of Americans support labeling efforts.
This law would not only prevent future GMO labeling requirements, but would actually kill laws previously passed by voters, including the first-of-its-kind Vermont law set to take effect in July, which would require labels on GMO food.  AS written Initiative 2012-4 that was passed in San Juan County prohibiting the growing of GM crops could be overturned.
This is our chance to protect our right to know what’s in our food and stop the DARK Act from becoming law. Please call 1-877-796-1949 to tell your Senators to OPPOSE S. 2609.

Below is a message GMO-Free SJC received from the Just Label It campaign…Gary Hirschberg, Chairman, Stonyfield Farm and Chairman, Just Label It:

Hi Colleagues, once again forgive the anonymous email, but I am sending this with urgency to my personal list of pro-labeling CEO’s and Business Leaders.

The moment for all of us to communicate to key Senators about your strong opposition to the Roberts Bill, to Donnelly’s QR code labeling “alternative” and your support for Senator Merkley’s mandatory labeling bill has now arrived.  Please call a select group of key senators, it could make a huge difference in the outcome of this fight.

UPDATE: Here is where things stand. As you know, earlier last week, it appeared that Senator Roberts had at least 52 votes in favor of the DARK Act, so we have been focused on preventing 8 additional Democrats from backing it, as well as to potentially convince a few of those 52 to reconsider their support before the likely floor vote in April.   As of Friday, it appeared that Senator Roberts now does not have the 60 votes necessary to end debate and pass his bill, as is.  This is of course very good news.  However, because a number of the farm state Democrats are under huge pressure from mainstream Ag and Food interests in their states to support some kind of effort that delays or blocks the VT law (VT 120) from taking effect on July 1st, Senator Donnelly has put forward a compromise amendment to Roberts’ bill that might enable enough Dems to join the bill to get it passed.  His proposal is essentially to give companies the choice to either adopt an on-pack label or to choose instead to use a very explicitly designed QR code that would make it easy for consumers to know whether GMOs are in their foods.  JLI remains adamantly opposed to the substitution of a QR code because we feel that it is still an attempt by big food companies to keep consumers in the dark, and so it is critical that we communicate to a specific list of Senators who we fear could support Donnelly’s compromise.

Also last week, Senator Merkley introduced a separate bill  that would in fact seek to replace VT 120 with a stronger mandatory national labeling bill.  While our first priority remains stopping the Roberts bill and allowing VT 120 to take effect, it is important that you understand that there are some real flaws in the VT 120 law which the Merkley bill addresses. VT 120 contains a safe harbor such that no enforcement will happen until January 1, 2017, which functionally gives food companies an extra 6 months to become compliant.  Moreover, VT 120 also exempts 42% of the food consumed by consumers (including foods served in restaurants, fast food chains, take-out sections in grocery stores, schools, nursing homes, jails and other institutions), and exempts dairy products from rBGH-treated cows.  While VT 120 is still a step in the right direction, it is important for you to know that the Merkley bill does not contain either the safe harbor nor the exemptions, so it is in fact stronger legislation when it comes to protecting our right to know.  So while we all try to stop the Roberts bill, we also are supporting the Merkley bill as it would get us nationwide mandatory labeling.

SUMMARY:  It is essential that the key Senators listed below hear from people like you that we are opposed to the Roberts Bill, even with the Donnelly amendment, and that we support Merkley’s bill.

KEY SENATE TARGETS (along with their office phone numbers):
Casey (D-PA) – 202-224-6324
Bennet (D-CO) – 202-224-5852
Durbin (D-IL) – 202-224-2152
Carper (D-DE) – 202-2242441
Warner (D-VA) – 202-224-2023
Franken (D-MN) – 202-2245641
Klobuchar (D-MN) – 202-224-3244
Kaine (D-VA) – 202-224-4024
Koons (D-DE) – 202-224-5042
Collins (R-ME) – 202-224-2523
King (I-ME) – 202-224-5344
Heitkamp (D-ND) – 202-224 2043
Ayotte (R-NH)– 202-224-3324
Donnelly (D-IN) – 202-224-4814
Brown (D-OH) – 202-224-2315
Menendez (D-NJ) – 202-224-4744
Hirono (D-HI) – 202-224-6361
Nelson (D-FL) – 202-224-5274

There are also three Republican Senators who may object on states’ rights grounds:
Lee (R-UT) – 202-224-5444
Paul (R-KY) – 202-224-4343
Gardner (R-CO)

KEY COMMUNICATION POINTS:

Please note that you do NOT have to have a factory, farm, store or employees in a state for your voice to be important to the Senators you reach. It is good enough that your products sell in their states and you are therefore contributing to commerce there.

Top line talking points:

* Millions of consumers support your company because of your commitment to full transparency and disclosure
* Regardless of whether or not the Senator supports GMO’s, there is no question that average citizens have the right to know and                 choose whether to buy foods containing GMO’s, but they cannot know without a label on the package.
* Polls show 90% of Americans, regardless of age, income or party affiliation, support labeling of GMO food on food packages
* 64 nations already require labeling including Russia, China, the EU, and important trading partners in Asia.
* Hundreds of food companies urged President Obama to honor his pledge to require GMO labeling.
* The DARK Act (S. 2609) would not only block state and federal GMO labeling, it would make it harder for companies like Campbell Soup to voluntarily label GMOs on their package.
* Even with some of the fixes in the Donnelly bill, polls show that Americans will not accept the QR Code as an alternative to on-pack labeling. This is simply another way to keep consumers in the dark.

Dispelling GMO Labeling Myths:

–        GMO labeling will not increase food prices. As a CEO I can tell you that companies frequently change labels to highlight new innovations or to make new claims. The world’s second largest producer of GMO crops – Brazil – implemented mandatory GMO labeling in 2003 yet claims that a mandatory disclosure would disrupt GMO expansion or cause food price increases were disproved by actual marketplace experience.

–        Labeling will not result in massive numbers of consumers suddenly seeking to switch to non GMO foods,  with resultant supply shortages.   A recent five-year study of consumer data confirmed that American consumers will not view a GMO disclosure as a warning. ( Reidel, John C. 2015. New Study: Consumers Don’t View GMO Labels as Negative ‘Warnings.’ University Commons)

–        Voluntary GMO labeling will not work. Companies have been allowed to make voluntary non-GMO disclosures since 2001, but consumers are more confused than ever.

–        There is no “patchwork quilt.” Current state GMO labeling laws are virtually identical, so there will be no “patchwork quilt” of different state laws. However, the responsible solution to concerns over a possible future patchwork would be the establishment of a uniform, national mandatory labeling standard.

–        A responsible alternative exists. Last week, an alternative proposal was introduced by Senators Merkley, Tester, Leahy and Feinstein that would provide companies with a menu of options to label GMOs on their package while eliminating the concern of a potential patchwork. This alternative is supported by both Campbell’s Soup and the Just Label It coalition.

So it all comes down to this.   Years of our work to promote GMO transparency will either succeed or fail in the next month.  Your calls now could make a big difference.