ASPB opposes proposed ban of GMOs in Humboldt county ballot measure M

10/19/04

Jailing of farmers, scientists for use of safe, innovative technologies is unjust, anti-science, and harmful to American agriculture

In a letter sent today to the Chairperson of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) urged opposition to Measure M on the local ballot November 2. Measure M would ban the growing of genetically modified crops in Humboldt County.

In the letter, ASPB President Roger Hangarter, Professor at Indiana University, and ASPB Committee on Public Affairs Chair Pam Ronald, Professor at University of California, Davis, pointed out serious flaws with the ballot measure. They noted that jailing of farmers and scientists pursuant to Measure M for use of safe, innovative technologies is unjust, anti-science and harmful to American agriculture.

Following is the ASPB letter sent to the Chair of the Humboldt County (in California) Board of Supervisors:

October 19, 2004

Ms. Jill Geist
Chairperson
Humboldt County Board of Supervisors
825 Fifth Street, Room 111
Eureka, California 95501

Dear Ms. Geist:
The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) urges you and your fellow voters in Humboldt County to oppose Measure M on the local ballot November 2.

If passed, Measure M "would make it unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to propagate, cultivate, raise or grow genetically modified organisms in Humboldt County. Primary enforcement responsibility is placed upon the Agricultural Commissioner of Humboldt County, who would be required to notify any person that may be in violation of the ordinance that the organisms are subject to confiscation and destruction. Such person would have five days to respond to such notification with evidence that such organisms are not in violation. The Agricultural Commissioner would consider the evidence presented and any other relevant evidence, and make a determination as soon as possible, but at least before any genetic pollution may occur."

"Upon a determination that a violation exists, the Agricultural Commissioner shall confiscate and destroy any such organisms before any genetic pollution may occur. In addition to confiscation and destruction of any organisms found to be in violation, a monetary penalty and/or imprisonment shall be imposed, taking into account the amount of damage, any potential damage and the willfulness of the person, firm or corporation."

We believe that jailing farmers or researchers pursuant to Measure M for use of safe innovative technologies is unjust, anti-science and damaging to American agriculture. Measure M's provisions for imprisonment of farmers or researchers without right to due process, to a jury trial, and to an attorney represent a violation of an individual's rights under the Constitution.

Passage of Measure M is unwarranted based on the best science findings concerning genetically engineered crops. In addition, the definition of DNA in the measure is erroneous. Under measure M Definitions Section 3 (b) DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid is defined as "a complex protein that is present in every cell of an organism and is the 'blueprint' for the organism's development." However, contrary to the Measure's definition, DNA is a nucleic acid and not a complex protein. This flawed definition in itself may make the proposed ordinance unenforceable.

A review of the scientific literature shows that genetically engineered foods are safe to eat. For example, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies published a study this year which states that "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population." Furthermore they found that genetically engineered foods and traditionally bred food crops present similar risks. The report can be read on the National Academies web site at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309092094/html/.

The progress of science using modern technologies, such as genetic engineering has lead to the reduction of pesticide usage and to less disease. For example, in China, use of genetically engineered cotton eliminated the use of 156 million pounds of pesticides in 2001. Reduction in the release of pesticides into the environment, including our lakes, rivers and streams, cut down dramatically on exposure to harsh chemical pesticides by farm workers and millions of Americans. Genetically engineered plants that more effectively resist pests have also led to improved crop yields.

Furthermore, there are instances in which genetic engineering can produce healthier and safer foods than can be accomplished using traditional plant breeding technologies. Researchers based in California (University of California, Berkeley) have genetically engineered hypo-allergenic wheat, which will be much safer for people with wheat allergies to consume. Plant science research has resulted in genetically engineered hypo-allergenic soybeans, which will lead to safer soy-based infant formula and other soy food products.

Much lower levels of mycotoxins, known potential cancer-causing agents, have been found in lines of genetically engineered corn, compared to conventional corn. The reason for this is that the genetically engineered corn is more effective in preventing a particular pest infestation. Genetically engineered rice, known as Golden Rice, with higher levels of beta carotene will address Vitamin A deficiencies in the diets of people in much of the developing world. Golden rice promises to prevent millions of cases of blindness among children of poor nations and help avert many childhood deaths.

The benefits that genetic modification of foods offer to the people throughout the world are substantial. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in a report issued in May of this year found that biotechnology and genetic engineering of crops hold great promise for agriculture in developing countries. The report noted that more than 70 percent of the world's poor still live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their survival. Agricultural research - including biotechnology - holds an important key to meeting their needs, the FAO said. The FAO added that biotechnology can speed up conventional breeding programs and may offer solutions where conventional methods fail.

We urge you and your fellow voters in Humboldt County to vote "No" on Measure M, a badly flawed proposed ordinance that will harm future study and farming using modern applications of biotechnology to crops. Founded in 1924, ASPB is a non-profit society of nearly 6,000 plant scientists, including 450 scientists in California, based primarily at universities.

Please let us know if we can provide any further information.

Sincerely,
Roger Hangarter
Professor, Indiana University
President, ASPB

Pamela Ronald
Professor, University of California, Davis
Chair, ASPB Committee on Public Affairs

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