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State Legislatures Increasingly Attempting to Limit Ag Biotechnology

At the same time, many state legislators are continuing to introduce legislation in support of agricultural biotechnology according to Pew Initiative analysis.

In 2005, state legislatures increasingly attempted to preempt, or disallow, local and county initiatives that were mostly aimed at limiting or prohibiting genetically modified seeds and crops, according to a new fact sheet and Web database released by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. This activity represents one of the largest categories of bills introduced in 2005 and is the most significant legislative development of that year.

Additionally, the Pew Initiative analysis finds that states continue to grapple with potential conflicts among farmers who use GM crop technologies and those using conventional or organic production approaches. Bills that focused on the coexistence of different food production systems and that attempted to address concerns about liability and contractual agreements comprised 17% of the bills introduced (the same percentage as in 2003-2004) and 15% of adopted legislation.

At the same time, many state legislators are continuing to introduce legislation in support of agricultural biotechnology. Bills supportive of agricultural biotechnology combined with preemption bills, represented close to two-thirds of adopted bills, indicating that adopted legislation in 2005 was largely supportive of the technology.

"In 2005, states continued to balance the competing interests of different stakeholders," says Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. "As agricultural biotechnology progresses, and farmers, the food industry and consumers continue to adapt to it, state legislatures are at the forefront. States sometimes have little choice but to address new policy issues, even before they emerge at the federal level."

During the 2005 legislative session, 117 pieces of legislation related to agricultural biotechnology were introduced in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Fourteen percent of the bills introduced addressed preemption and twenty-six% of introduced legislation addressed support of agricultural biotechnology. In other areas, 12% of introduced bills in 2005 imposed moratoria on GM crops and animals; 8% imposed labeling requirements; 8% involved studies and taskforces and 2% concerned crop destruction.

The fact sheet entitled "State Legislative Activity Related to Agricultural Biotechnology Continued in 2005", chronicles and catalogues state and federal legislative activity relating to agricultural biotechnology during 2005 and the first half of the 2005-2006 state legislative session. It is the first of two planned reports covering the 2005-2006 legislative session in states. When appropriate, comparisons are made to a similar analysis of the 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 legislative sessions released by the Pew Initiative in June 2003 and May 2004. The fact sheet is accompanied by Legislation Tracker, a database that archives legislation introduced since early 2001.

Other findings:

  • As in previous sessions, the Hawaii state legislature introduced the most bills on agricultural biotechnology, generating 33 bills. Other states introducing large numbers of bills were New York, with 12 pieces and Massachusetts with seven pieces.
  • Although 117 pieces of legislation were introduced, only a relatively small percentage (20%) were passed, as is typical in the first year of a two-year legislative session.
  • One labeling bill was adopted in Alaska, out of nine introduced nationwide: SB 25, which requires that GM fish not be sold for human consumption unless it is conspicuously labeled. the most widely favored uses are those that offer direct human benefits, including producing chickens resistant to avian flu (40% "very good reason") or producing cattle resistant to mad cow disease (40% "very good reason.)"
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