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"Monsanto Law" in Missouri Would Snuff Out Local County Bans of GE Crops

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - An ordinance from a sparsely populated northern California county has some Missouri lawmakers worried that local regulation of genetically modified crops could hamper agriculture's future in the state.

Mendocino County, Calif., banned all genetically modified crops and animals in March 2004, prompting activists to attempt to do the same in four other counties. They were successful in one.

Since then, 14 states have banned local regulation of the types of seeds farmers can use and another five - including Missouri - are considering bans.

The Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would give the state responsibility for the "registration, labeling, sale, storage and planting of seeds," while also barring local governments and the state from adopting regulations that exceed federal requirements. A similar bill is pending in a House committee.

With half of the states bordering Missouri adopting or considering bans on local regulations, Sen. David Klindt said the state risks falling behind its neighbors in the race to attract agricultural industries and research if local governments start creating more restrictive regulations.

"We need to continue to send a very clear message that Missouri is very open to biotechnology, because not only will farmers have the ability to produce food, but we will be able to heal people," said Klindt, R-Bethany.

Klindt, a farmer in rural northwest Missouri, is not a rookie to the issue of genetically modified seeds and crops. After first trying unsuccessfully to grow crops in southeast Missouri, a Sacramento, Calif.-based biotechnology company planned to relocate to Klindt's district.

Ventria Bioscience planned to cultivate rice containing human genes for growing proteins that could treat ailments such as diarrhea and dehydration. But delays in state financing prompted the company to drop its plans.

Sen. Rob Mayer said biotechnology has a great future, but it doesn't mix with rice because the public - and thus brewers, baby food makers and cereal companies that buy it from farmers - refuse to buy rice if it has been genetically engineered.

Mayer, R-Dexter, said banning all local regulation of seeds increases the chances that genetically engineered rice will find its way into food crops and leave rice farmers unable to sell their product to anyone.

"Rice is a unique commodity because it's directly consumed by humans," he said. "So there is a higher level of scrutiny for that product."

Nick Kalaitzandonakes, an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said it costs between $7 million and $15 million for researchers to meet federal regulations. The existing costs already make it difficult for universities and smaller companies to compete with the giants.

"Would you let every municipality decide how much fluoride they want to put in the water? Would you let them decide independently whether they drive on the left side or the right side of the road?" Kalaitzandonakes asked. "There are some things that in the absence of a homogenous standard become too expensive to function."

But some environmentalists and at least one consumer group argue that federal regulations are consistent because they're almost non-existant.

Rhonda Perry, program director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Columbia, said there aren't local efforts in Missouri to regulate biologically engineered seeds, so the bill would needlessly trump local control.

"We, as local citizens, will be giving up all our rights," she said.

Agricultural committee leaders earlier in the session decided to sidestep a possible showdown over the local regulation of large-scale animal feeding operations. In response to farms that feed hundreds or thousands of animals in large barns, nine Missouri counties have enacted health ordinances to impose restrictions beyond the state regulations.

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This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's Own Foundation, edited by Thomas Wittman and is a production of the Ecological Farming Association. Please join us and become a member at <> . To be removed from this list, reply to any email with "remove" in the header.