County Eyes Ban on Genetically Engineered Crops
By Roger Sideman
Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 8 2006
SANTA CRUZ - The county is one step closer to seeing a ban on the
cultivation of genetically engineered crops.
Supervisors unanimously agreed Tuesday to develop an ordinance that
would place a "precautionary" moratorium on the use of crops that
carry transplanted genes from other species to make them more
nutritious or easier to grow. The ordinance is being drafted, and
will come before supervisors on June 20.
There are no genetically engineered, or GE, crops in Santa Cruz
County, but the supervisors' action was prompted by a nine-month
study of the laws and risks associated with such crops, which are
being planted on a growing share of the world's farmland.
The group that conducted the study suggested a moratorium because too
little is known about the effects of genetically engineered organisms
on human health and the environment. The future viability of organic
agriculture is also at risk, the report states.
Some counties, including Trinity, Mendocino and Marin already have
imposed bans on genetically engineered crops.
"There are too many concerns about the impact on crops and human
health," said Peggy Miars, executive director of California Certified
Organic Farmers in Santa Cruz.
A minority within the study group said in an unsigned letter that the
technology "holds promise" and that a moratorium is unnecessary since
there's currently no interest in planting GE crops in the county.
Indeed, a moratorium would be more of a preemptive move. Genetically
engineered crops are typically corn, cotton and soybeans rather than
the berries and lettuce crops that dominate the county's agriculture.
Still, the potential exists for local GE crops, said Poki Namkung,
county health officer and the report's lead author.
Genetic engineering research in other areas has begun on 13 of the 39
commercial crop and flower varieties grown in the county, including
strawberries and apples, Namkung told supervisors.
The report was written by two appointees from each of the five
supervisorial districts, as well as the county agriculture
commissioner and two public health experts.
Among its findings:
The moratorium could be lifted once GE crops are better contained,
tested and labeled.
- State and federal laws provide inadequate oversight. The USDA does
not know the location of many GE test sites. Some crops not approved
for human consumption have found their way into the food supply.
- Lack of safety testing leaves a potentially dangerous void in
understanding long-term health effects of GE food, which is still
largely unlabeled in the U.S.
- Farmers worldwide have reported their crops being tainted by stray
GE pollen, subjecting some to patent infringement lawsuits from large
"A ban places responsibility back on the industry," said Angela
Flynn, an organic farmer in Bonny Doon.
Flynn was among about 15 people who spoke in favor of the ban
Tuesday. No one was against it.
"I am one of the 76 percent of Santa Cruz residents who buys organic
foods on a regular basis," said Gavilan College instructor Debra
Klein, citing a well-publicized study. "The looming prospect of
unregulated GE foods being sold in our grocery stores and farmers
markets is horrifying to me, my family and friends."
Supervisor Ellen Pirie agreed, describing the report's findings as
"scary." Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt said a ban would be "only prudent
when 65 nations already have regulations."
"Hopefully other communities in California will see this," said
Supervisor Mark Stone.
During the meeting, Supervisor Tony Campos, whose district spans most
of the county's farmland, was quiet on the subject and did not return
calls later Tuesday.
County Agricultural Commissioner Dave Moeller noted that supervisors
already passed a law in 1988 that requires that the county be
notified before genetically modified crops are planted. Down the
road, additional regulations could hurt local farmers if GE
technology takes off, Moeller said.
A anonymous minority within the study group disagreed with a
moratorium. In their letter, they wrote:
"We do not want to close the door on those opportunities for
increased yields, reduced pesticide use ... which results in cleaner
water and air through reduced emissions."
The comments echo sentiments heard in counties where similar bans
have failed and where GE crops have been touted by their producers
and many scientists as the future of farming, improving agriculture
and even human health.
Though the letter was unsigned, Moeller was later identified as one
of its authors, along with Richard Nutter, Steve Bontadelli and
Thomas Rider - all of whom participated in creating the report.
Moeller later said that the minority group agrees with the report's
The report can be found online at: http://www.co.santa-cruz.ca.us
Contact Roger Sideman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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