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Indiana, Oregon biotech food, crop legislative front

(Thursday, April 3, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Here is news of two state bills dealing with genetically modified foods and crops.

In Indiana, House Bill1571 was reported out of committee today and is eligible for second reading -- and amendment -- in the state Senate. Following the third and final reading will come the vote on the bill.

Three of the four provisions in the original bill meant to protect farmers made it through committee. Language that would have kept all lawsuits against farmers in the state was deleted under pressure from agribusiness, said Troy Roush, an Indiana farmer.

"Once Pioneer gets a farmer into DesMoines or Monsanto gets someone into St. Louis to defend against a patent infringement case, they can't effectively defend themselves because of the high costs" of travel and lodging, Roush said.

However, Roush emphasized what he saw as the following positive aspects of the bill that did survive committee: 1. If a seed supplier gets a court order to come onto a farmers land and take samples, then the farmer is allowed to have independent, identical samples taken. This provision ensures that a farmer will have access to the same evidence a seed company has gathered. Farmers can use this evidence to conduct their own tests. Therefore, if a seed company attempts to sue a farmer for violating the terms of a seed contract, the farmer will at least have access to independently gathered evidence, identical to that of the seed supplier. This would prevent the obvious one sided instance of a seed supplier suing a farmer, with the only evidence in the case being evidence that was gathered by the company and tested by the company.

2. If a farmer possesses a product that is patented by the seed supplier, but the farmer did not intend to possess the patented product, then the farmer is not liable. This protects farmers who are not growing genetically modified (GM) or patented seed from being sued for inadvertently possessing patented genetics. For example, if you plant conventional corn, and your neighbor plants BT corn (a patented GM variety), your neighbor's BT corn can cross-pollinate with your conventional corn causing it to test positive for patented traits. In this instance, a farmer should not be held liable for patent infringement just because the wind blew the genes onto the farmer's land. This protection is needed for farmers in Indiana. In fact, a seed company representative testified last year before the State's Judiciary Committee that four out of six of their attorneys believe a farmer who possesses patented genes because they blew onto his field is technically liable for patent infringement. If you take this reasoning to its extreme, then theoretically, every crop farmer in Indiana could be potentially liable for patent infringement. This defies reason and is morally wrong. If a farmer did nothing wrong, they should not be technically in violation of a seed contract.

3. If a seed supplier brings an action against a farmer that is frivolous, unreasonable, groundless, or litigated in bad faith, then the farmer has a right to recover litigation costs and court costs. This basically means that if a seed company brings an action against a farmer, and the company should have known better, then, if the farmer wins, he can recover all his attorneys fees and legal costs from the company.

See the bill at : http://www.in.gov/legislative/bills/2003/HB/HB1571.2.html
or http://www.in.gov/legislative/bills/2003/PDF/HB/HB1571.2.pdf

Toll Free Senate Switchboard Number for the Indiana legislature: (800) 382-9467 or call (317) 232-9400

Meanwhile, in Oregon, State Representative Jeff Kropf (R-Halsey), the Chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, has introduced legislation that would prohibit state or local labeling of Genetically Engineered food. HB 2957, scheduled for a hearing on April 4, states: "A state or local governmental unit may not impose a labeling requirement for a food product unless the governmental unit determines: (1) That the reason for the labeling requirement is recognized and endorsed by the federal Food and Drug Administration; (2) The labeling requirement provides health and nutritional information that will benefit consumers; and (3) The labeling requirement is the most cost-effective method of educating consumers regarding the subject of the requirement." In other words, until the FDA decides that GE foods are unsafe, the state cannot take any measures to tell its own citizens what's in their food.

Proposed Amendments to the Bill state the following:

Section 1 (1) A local government may not impose requirement for the disclosure or display of information on a food label. (2) If a food is subject to a federal requirement for disclosing or displaying information on the label, a state agency may not impose a labeling requirement regarding the same information that is more stringent than the federal requirement.