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E-M:/ Bill will preempt local regulation of genetically engineered crops and invasive species



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Enviro-Mich message from "Barbara B. Lucas" <lucasb@ewashtenaw.org>
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If you feel as if genetically engineered (GE) foods are moving into the marketplace faster than your knowledge about them, you are not alone. With time, as more research is conducted and results are disseminated, we will be able to make better-informed decisions about their safety and benefits.  But a bill is rapidly progressing through the Michigan legislature that if passed, will permanently take away from local units of government the ability to regulate GE crops.  Similar bills have recently been passed in 14 states.

 

The following is a synopsis, with further resources, on the current status of SB 777.  It may be voted on soon by the Senate Agriculture Committee, and/or a similar bill may be introduced in the House.  If it becomes state law it will take away local governments' right to regulate against the planting of any type of seeds.  Last week the writers of SB 777 amended it, but even with its new language this bill will:

 

1.	preempt local control,
2.	allow genetically engineered crops and tests sites in all areas of the state,
3.	make it significantly harder to regulate against invasive species.

 

Michigan and GE crops

 

Currently most of the soybeans and about a third of the corn grown in Michigan are genetically engineered, and a defeat of SB 777 would not mean the end of these crops.  Rather, its defeat would maintain the status quo, in which localities have the right to consider the effects of and possibly regulate whatever GE endeavors might affect their communities.  For instance,  Michigan is home to many experimental plots of GE plants.  U.S. PIRG found that Michigan has been granted requests for 756 tests sites, where 17 different GE experimental crops are being studied.  This includes 13 sites of the experimental herbicide-resistant golf course turf called creeping bentgrass, which EPA studies have shown has contaminated wild areas 13 miles away (see http://www.nwrage.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=76).  Michigan State University is one of the top ten universities in the nation in terms of requests, and Michigan Tech. and the University of Michigan have also requested field tests.  http://uspirg.org/reports/Raising%20Risk%202005%20Final.pdf

 

SB 777 and invasive plant species

 

The new language recently added to SB 777 is an effort to alleviate the concerns of those who want to retain the right of local governments to regulate against the planting of invasive species within their borders.  But this new language still requires that local municipalities petition the Department of Agriculture, putting the burden of proof on the local governments to demonstrate environmental harm.  

 

This is significant, because in the case of invasive species, the State of Michigan lags far behind other states in legislating against the sale and planting of invasives.  For instance, Michigan currently prohibits the sale of only one invasive plant that is of value to the nursery industry (purple loosestrife), while states like New York have legislated a phase-out of 14 currently-marketed invasives (see http://www-personal.umich.edu/~drlucas/chart.doc).

 

In this climate, the ability of Ann Arbor to be granted permission to continue to regulate against 138 different species is questionable.  But even if all assurances are made that Ann Arbor's ordinance will not be affected, the ability of other municipalities to draft new ordinances against invasive species will likely be greatly hampered.  Note that on January 23rd the Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution opposing SB 777.

 

GE seed regulation - a broader concern


Going beyond invasive species is the potentially much larger issue of the preemption of the right to regulate against GE seeds.  Until recently, this was a right that all local municipalities enjoyed, nationwide, but only a few exercised. But within the past few years, as research showing the risks of GE crops have come to light, three California counties, two cities, and nearly 100 New England towns have passed local ordinances and resolutions limiting genetically modified organisms.  

 

This exercise of local control caused an immediate and successful mobilization of the forces that support genetically modified organisms-the industry-backed legislative group called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council).  They have managed to pass preemption bills in 14 states that take away local governments rights in this arena.  See their position on this matter at https://exchangeweb.ewashtenaw.org/exchange/lucasb/Inbox/1=%20SB%20777/Re:%20question-3.EML/ALEC%20Biotech%20State%20Unifo.doc/C58EA28C-18C0-4a97-9AF2-036E93DDAFB3/ALEC%20Biotech%20State%20Unifo.doc?attach=1. 

 

This has happened under the radar of the public, but opposition is waking up.  The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators has alerted its members to be on the lookout for such bills, because they are being introduced and passed swiftly.  The NCEL says "There is a pressing concern that pre-emption provisions may be inserted into important end-of-session bills in many more states, and perhaps also pushed through as a congressional rider on the federal level." 

http://www.environmentalcommons.org/ncel.html <http://www.environmentalcommons.org/ncel.html> 

 

The Detroit Free Press recently ran an editorial in opposition to SB 777:  http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060119/OPINION01/601190484/1068/OPINION <https://exchangeweb.ewashtenaw.org/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060119/OPINION01/601190484/1068/OPINION> , and a guest editorial from two University of Michigan professors:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060118/OPINION02/601180318/1068/OPINION <https://exchangeweb.ewashtenaw.org/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060118/OPINION02/601180318/1068/OPINION> .  The Lansing State Journal printed a guest editorial written by Kate Madigan, of the Michigan Environmental Council:  http://www.lsj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051211/OPINION02/512110586/1087/opinion.

 

Currently, the right of local governments in Michigan to regulate against certain seeds is one of many areas (e.g. wetlands) in which they can offer greater environmental protection for their citizens than the minimal levels that are provided by the state and federal government.  Many communities have not yet exercised these rights, but as needs change and/or public awareness rises, they at least have the right to do so should they see fit.  The science of genetic engineering is just beginning, and studies about its risks are not well known by the public and local government officials.  Preemption legislation takes away the ability of local communities to follow the Precautionary Principle (which encourages careful consideration of long-term impacts). 

 

Supporters of SB 777 say that it is not the place of local governments to determine safety of GE crops, because the federal government already does this.  But there are many that feel this federal oversight has been sorely inadequate.  A report released last spring by U.S. PIRG Education Fund (http://uspirg.org/reports/Raising%20Risk%202005%20Final.pdf) cited a review of the 85 most recent reports of field tests available in 1995, in which some of the most fundamental tests necessary to determine ecological effects, such as impacts on nontarget insects, were never conducted. The National Academy of Sciences found "inadequate expertise" in USDA's oversight, saying the agency at times "lacked scientific rigor, balance, and transparency." 

 

Many feel it is urgent to retain local control over GE seeds because even when the federal government has clearly established risk, regulations have not followed.  For instance, although the EPA determined that GE bentgrass is contaminating and spreading in wild areas 13 miles away from test plots, they are allowing this testing to continue.  

 

GE repercussions

 

GE crops are creating many unintentioned repercussions.  Scientists at Cornell University and Iowa State University have confirmed that pollen from corn that is genetically engineered to contain Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) is killing Monarch butterflies, a species whose population has plummeted. New research shows that the Bt toxin can leach through plant roots into the soil where it binds to soil particles and remains active for up to 250 days, possibly harming soil micro-organisms and disrupting the soil ecology. Evidence shows that Bt crops may also affect beneficial predator insects such as lacewings and ladybirds when they eat insects that have been feeding on genetically engineered plants.  Bt crops also pose a threat to organic agriculture. Organic farmers have long used the Bt toxin in a natural spray as a component of an integrated pest management scheme. The spray targets specific pests and is non-toxic to mammals. However, plants that continually produce the Bt insecticide will likely exert strong selective pressure on insects to develop resistance to the insecticide. Fears are that as insects evolve resistance to Bt toxins, organic farmers will be stripped of one of their most valuable tools.

http://www.foe.org/camps/comm/safefood/gefood/factsheets/envirohazfacts.html <http://www.foe.org/camps/comm/safefood/gefood/factsheets/envirohazfacts.html> 

 

Despite a multitude of opinion polls performed in the U.S. and abroad which show that the public overwhelmingly feels GE foods should be labeled as such (see http://www.foe.org/camps/comm/safefood/gefood/survey.html ), our federal government does not require it.  The only requirement is that in order to carry an "organic" label, foods cannot contain GE ingredients.  This situation threatens organic farmers, since they cannot protect themselves from genetic contamination due to pollen drift from GE crops.  Retaining local control will allow communities to protect their organic farmers by restricting the use of GE seeds within their borders.

 

Those that support SB 777 say that GE seeds have many benefits to society.  But these benefits are being called into question:

 

*	Herbicide-resistant GE crops are said to reduce the use of herbicides, but a report by Benbrook Consulting in July 1999, which reviewed more that 8,200 university-run field tests on herbicide-resistant crops, found that farmers planting "Roundup Ready" soybeans used two to five times more herbicides than conventional soybean farmers. http://www.foe.org/camps/comm/safefood/gefood/factsheets/envirohazfacts.html <http://www.foe.org/camps/comm/safefood/gefood/factsheets/envirohazfacts.html> 

 

*	GE crops are said to hold the promise of reducing world hunger, but many countries are protecting themselves by refusing to import genetically modified foods, causing hunger relief agencies to have great difficulties finding uncontaminated food.   For more on this, see http://www.foe.org/camps/comm/safefood/gefood/foodaid/index.html, or "GMO Contamination Around the World" a 2001 report by Friends of the Earth International http://www.foe.org/camps/comm/safefood/gefood/foodaid/contamination.pdf.  Note that the ability of U.S. farmers to find export markets for their crops will decrease if GE crops become standard here, while restrictions rise elsewhere.

 

Contacts

 

Contact info. for your state senator is available at:  http://www.senate.michigan.gov/FindYourSenator/michiganfys.asp <http://www.senate.michigan.gov/FindYourSenator/michiganfys.asp> .

 

For copies of the revised language, contact the clerk of the Senate Agriculture Committee-Jeff Cobb (jcobb@senate.michigan.gov <mailto:jcobb@senate.michigan.gov> , 866-305-2134).  The senator who introduced SB 777, Gerald Van Woerken (R-Muskegon-SenGVanWoerkom@senate.michigan.gov <mailto:SenGVanWoerkom@senate.michigan.gov> ) is chair of the committee.  Currently Senator Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) is in opposition to SB 777, while the other committee members support it:  Sen. Judson Gilbert (R-Algonac), Sen. Ron Jelinek (R-Three Oaks) and Samuel "Buzz" Thomas (D-Detroit--  SenBThomas@senate.michigan.gov <mailto:bthompson@michigancitizen.com> ). 

 

Even if the bill is slowed down in the Senate, it may be taken up in the House.  

Contact info. for your state representatives is available at: 
http://www.house.michigan.gov/find_a_rep.asp <http://www.house.michigan.gov/find_a_rep.asp> .

 

The Chair of the House Agriculture Committee is Rep. Neal Nitz (R-78):  nealnitz@house.mi.gov, 517-373-1796.

 

Groups that represent local units of government:

 

Michigan Municipal League: 1 800.653.2483    www.mml.org <http://www.mml.org/> 

Michigan Township Association:  1.517.321.6467 www.michigantownships.org <http://www.michigantownships.org/> 

Michigan Association of Counties:  1.800.258.1152  www.micounties.org

 

 

 

 

Submitted by:

		
		Barbara B. Lucas
		Program Assistant
		Washtenaw County Department of Planning and Environment
		705 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor
		lucasb@ewashtenaw.org <mailto:lucasb@ewashtenaw.org> 

		
		Connie Crancer Bailie
		Natural Areas Specialist
		Michigan Botanical Club board member
		School of Natural Resources Masters Degree Candidate
		cbailie@umich.edu <mailto:cbailie@umich.edu>  

 


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