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Biotech rule roils Iowa campaign

(Thursday, Oct. 31, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

Justin Gillis, Washinton Post, 10/31/2002: Leaders of the Biotechnology Industry Organization thought they were defusing a controversy, not starting one, when they announced a plan to limit the growing areas for new genetically manipulated crops designed to produce pharmaceutical and industrial compounds.

But the policy, which the Washington trade group disclosed last week, has provoked a furious response in Iowa, where Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) is locked in a tight reelection battle with Republican challenger Doug Gross. The policy would prohibit plantings in Iowa of certain corn varieties. With Iowa farmers fearing the loss of what some see as a potential economic boon, the candidates are competing to denounce the BIO policy.

Gross accused Vilsack of allowing Iowa to be "redlined" by the biotech industry. Vilsack, one of the strongest supporters of biotechnology among the nation's governors, appealed to BIO to reverse its ban. "I am concerned that you are trying to shut the door on our farmers to keep them from competing in this new endeavor," the governor said in a letter.

BIO member companies adopted the policy in response to intense pressure from the nation's food processors and related groups. They are concerned that industrial or pharmaceutical proteins grown in modified corn varieties could wind up contaminating the food supply, sparking costly recalls. BIO's voluntary moratorium applies throughout the Midwest corn belt and the Canadian prairie, but only in Iowa has it spurred significant debate.

Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman for BIO, said the group appreciates Vilsack's strong support of the biotech industry but it isn't budging.

"We believe that science and the federal regulations will allow us, at some point in the future when we have a track record established, to produce these crops wherever there are suitable conditions, including in Iowa," Dry said yesterday. "But at this time we cannot do that."