Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

Six Massachusetts Towns Vote Against Genetic Engineering

For Immediate Release:

Six Massachusetts Towns Vote Against Genetic Engineering

 This town meeting season, nine towns in Massachusetts have put  various measures on their town meeting warrants calling for changes  in policy on genetic engineering. As of May 8, 6 of those 9 towns  have debated the measures. Each town put slightly different wording  on its warrant, but they all concentrated on 3 key demands: 1)  mandatory labeling on all genetically engineered foods 2) farmer  liability protection to give farmers legal protections when dealing  with biotechnology giants and 3) a moratorium on further growing of  GE crops until independent scientific evidence proves them to be safe  and they can be show to not harmfully effect family farms.

 Of the 6 towns that debated the issues, all of them approved at  least some of the resolutions before them, and four approved all of  the measures. "The success of these resolutions at town meetings this  year reflects an underlying opposition to genetic engineering in the  public today," said Ben Grosscup who was a leader in petitioning for  the resolution in Amherst.

 On Monday May 8, Amherst Town meeting debated the 3 articles on its  warrant for over 1 hour and 15 minutes. The labeling resolution  passed by voice vote. The liability legislation resolution passed by  115-60. The moratorium resolution passed by 82-77. The Amherst Town  Meeting has many scientists, some of whom spoke against the  resolutions, but others of whom spoke in favor. Members pointed out  that genetic engineering is dramatically different than various from  of plant breeding and hybridization that have gone on for thousands  of years, because never before have genes been so separated from  their own evolutionary contexts, implanted into crops from entirely  different kingdoms, and patented for commercial profit. Many town  meeting members were pleased to have the chance to voice their  opinions in the intelligent debate that took place.

 In Ware, over 100 people attended the Town meeting. The farmer  liability resolution, passed quickly by 55-44. Then, the petition  sponsor, Heidi Bara, spoke in favor of the call for a moratorium on  genetic engineering. An organic farmer in Ware, Matthew Biskup, also  spoke in favor of the moratorium, citing concerns that his corn crop  is in danger of contamination. That measure, however, was defeated by  voice vote. When the labeling resolution came up, one woman said "I  want to know what I'm eating," and it passed by a voice vote.

 Starting at the very beginning of their town meeting, citizens of  Granby debated the 3 articles on genetic engineering. With nearly 200  in attendance, each resolution passed without tallying. Organic  Farmer, Ryan Voiland, who sponsored the articles said, "I'm glad that  Granby is supportive of a more responsible approach to agriculture  and that they have showed their support for a moratorium on genetic  engineering until further study is done. I wasn't sure how people  would feel, and I was pleasantly surprised that people were so in  favor of them." At the same meeting, Voiland brought forth a measure  to form an agricultural commission in Granby, which also passed.

 On May 1, the Charlemont Town Meeting, which went until 11:30pm,  passed a resolution to "encourage a local moratorium on the growing  of Genetically Engineered crops until there is adequate scientific  evidence that these products are not harmful to us or our  environment," and calling on legislators to enact mandatory labeling  and farmer liability protection. Organic Farmer, John Hoffman, who  sponsored the article said "neither I nor many others at town meeting  are late night people." Nonetheless, more than half of the 80 or so  who attended stayed until the very end when the article came up.  Although the vote was not unanimous, a vast majority voted in favor.  "Many told me after the meeting that they appreciated having the  opportunity to vote on the resolution and to support it," Hoffman  said. Hoffman, intends to continue discussion on this issue in the  agricultural commission that has just formed in Charlemont.  Charlemont's choice to "encourage a local moratorium," although it  lacks binding legal authority, is a statement of moral authority by  the town.

 On May 6, Organic gardener, Linda Avis Scott and her husband,  Michael Baines, presented an anti-GE resolution to the Shutesbury  town meeting, which voted unanimously to support. Along with other  local activists, Scott had been educating the community about the  threat of genetic engineering. "The resolution we put on the warrant  in Shutesbury really taps into my fundamental belief of what town  meeting is about -- the true democracy that allows us to express  ourselves freely and to be heard," Scott said. The same day  Bernardston passed a measure for mandatory labeling of GE foods and  seeds and it referred two other measures on farmer liability and a  moratorium to the newly founded agricultural commission.

Since 2002, over one hundred towns in New England have passed  resolutions calling for major regulatory changes for the  biotechnology industry. As of May 8, 2006, eighteen of those towns  are in Massachusetts.

The Vermont House and Senate have just passed unprecedented  legislation that would provide Vermont farmers with liability  protection and greater legal parity with biotech giants. The bill  passed the House on April 25, 2006 by 77-63 and days later it passed  the Senate by 19-8. Vermont's success was only possible because of  the 85 towns that passed resolutions calling for a change in policy  on GE technology.

Addendum Background on GE Liability issues:

Monsanto, which is the largest biotechnology company, patents novel  gene sequences in their GE crops, which routinely contaminate non-GE  crops through wind pollination and seed spillage from trucks. John  Hoffman, who runs an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)  and filed similar articles in Charlemont said, "This issue affects me  directly because of the possible contamination of my corn crop. We  know that with wind pollinated crops like corn, GE pollen will cross  with non-GE varieties. For me, that means that my organically grown  crop is no longer organic."

The corporate patent rights that come with these novel gene sequences  pose liability threats that leave many farmers concerned. The St.  Louis Post-Dispatch reports that, Monsanto has an an annual budget of  $10 million, with which it employs a staff of 75 lawyers devoted  solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers for patent  infringement.

So far, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits against U.S. farmers,  according to the Center for Food Safety, and the recorded judgments  it has been awarded have totaled over $15 million. But many farmers  settle with the company out-of-court, accepting court gag orders and  leaving scant information about their cases. Gloria Meluleni, an  organic farmer who runs Coyote Hill Farm and brought forth  resolutions on GE to the Bernardston Town Meeting said, "It is so  unjust and ridiculous that Monsanto can sue people when its GE pollen  crosses over to someone else's crop."

----------------30 ------------------