Saturday, January 19, 2008

Finally some Engineererd sense from Sacramento

Apologies to the citizens of Sacramento. I was using the name of your city to refer to those visitors who show up and try to come to some agreement about the governance of this fine state. It is that latter body that so often fails to apply some sense.

That rather holds true for California Greens. Given that Greens are found where the population is found, most are in the major urban areas of the state... San Diego, Los Angeles, Bay Area. So we don't pay enough attention to what is happening in the rural areas and the legislation that passes through the Agriculture Committees of our state legislature rarely raises a ripple.

There is one bill that we should all be supporting. AB 541, introduced by Marin County's Jared Huffman, has as it's primary function to establish that the manufacturers of genetically engineered (GE) crops are liable for damages if the GE material contaminates crops on other lands and causes financial loss. This is the first state-wide legislation related to GE crops that has passed out of the Agriculture Committee. It is a hopeful sign that the first bill is one that is designed to protect farmers who choose not to use GE seed.

According to a press release from the Genetic Engineering Policy Project:
Specifically, the newly amended bill would provide for:
  1. Protection from patent infringement lawsuits for farmers unknowingly contaminated by GE crops. Currently, farmers with crops that become contaminated by patented seeds or pollen have been the target of such lawsuits without clear recourse or defense.
  2. The establishment of a mandatory crop sampling protocol to be used by patent holders when investigating farmers they believe may have violated patents or seed contracts. This protocol would require the farmer’s written permission for sampling, and provide for a state agriculture official to accompany the patent holder during the sampling and collect duplicate samples for independent verification if requested by either party.
The vote in the Committee on Agriculture was 5 - 0 with three members either absent or abstaining. Those three were Doug LaMalfa (R - AD 2), Jean Fuller (R - AD 32) and Cathleen Gagliani (D - AD 17). Gagliani's non-action is interesting in that she has just moved into the 12th State Senate District served by Jeff Denham, long a major fixture in agricultural legislation in this state but facing a Don Perata backed recall drive.

Most of the time, the Assembly Committee on Agriculture goes about it business out of the sight of our major media. The LA Times, SF Chronicle, San Jose Mercury New, San Diego Union Tribune are all urban papers and the don't pay much attention to agriculture unless that is a story on food contamination with which they can scare everyone.

Even the Committee on Agriculture likes it's relative anonymity. That have not seen fit to post their hearing schedules [click "Committee Hearings" in left side menu] since April 2005.

Among all of the other things we have to worry about, the changes we want to see, this bill is one for which I believe the Green Party should be active in it's support. We can not sit back in our comfortable (sub)urban homes and expect any legislature to do the right thing. There is a long way to go on this one and we have to keep pushing. You know that Monsanto will be doing heavy lobbying.

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