Genetically Modified Food Bill Dies in State Legislature

By Rio Bauce, Special to the Planet
Tuesday September 12, 2006

Sept. 1 was a day of victory for environmentalists, organic farmers, and local government around the state, as a bill that would have barred cities and counties from passing laws that restrict genetically modified foods (GMOs) did not come to a vote in the State Senate, effectively killing the bill. 

“In the absence of statewide safeguards, local governments have stepped up to the plate and taken the precaution of restricting GE crops,” said Lisa Bunin, a member of the Santa Cruz County Public Health Commission GE Subcommittee. “With the passage of local GE-free laws, these governments have sent a clear message that the state needs to act not only to protect the state’s diverse agriculture, but also public health and the environment.” 

The bill, SB 1056, authored by Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter) and backed by Monsanto, a major producer of GMO seeds, would have prohibited cities or counties from instituting local limitations on GMO production. 

“This one piece of legislation has probably received more calls and emails than any bill I’ve ever carried,” Florez said. 

In September 2005, the Berkeley City Council passed a unanimous resolution calling on local representatives, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and State Senator Don Perata, to oppose the bill. The bill was co-sponsored by Councilmember Dona Spring and Councilmember Kriss Worthington. 

“It’s not a massive, gigantic victory because these companies are going to come back and try to restrict local control,” said Worthington. “However, it’s a good sign that the Legislature was not willing to give in so easily. If more cities or counties adopt restrictions, it will create momentum for positive state law, instead of a negative state law.” 

On Aug. 24, SB 1056 passed the Assembly floor by a vote of 51-24. Assemblyman Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez voted in favor of the bill, while Hancock and Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) voted in opposition. 

The Daily Planet could not reach Monsanto or the California Seed Association, the proponents of the measure, for comment. 

“By not even bringing SB 1056 to a vote, the Senate sent a clear message that enacting pre-emption before state legislation is bad policy,” said Renata Brillinger, Director of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture. “We commend Senate leadership, and look forward to moving ahead with discussions on effective state laws to address the problems associated with genetic engineering of crops and food.”