Alors que les principaux partis politiques au Québec (PLQ, PQ and ADQ) ne s'engagent nullement à adopter un cadre légal strict pour protéger les agriculteurs victimes de contamination génétique en provenance des OGM, la Californie, va débattre d'un projet de loi pour faire en sorte que les entreprises comme Monsanto soient tenues responsables de la contamination génétique causée par les OGM qu'elles vendent aux agriculteurs. Pas fort au Québec !

Kansas City Star

14 mai 2007

Bill would hold makers of engineered crops liable for contamination

SACRAMENTO (AP) - Stepping into the middle of a growing debate, a freshman assemblyman has introduced legislation that would make companies developing genetically engineered crops liable for damages if their work results in contamination of other fields.

The bill by Assemblyman Jared Huffman also would ban open-field production of genetically engineered crops used in the development of medications. And it would require growers to give county agriculture commissioners at least 30 days notice before engaging in open-field development of other genetically modified plants.

Huffman, D-San Rafael, said the measure is needed to protect California farmers against significant losses if their conventional or organic crops are contaminated by genetically engineered plants, seeds or pollen.

His bill would cover cases in which a grower claimed annual losses of at least $3,500.

He said an incident last year in which an experimental form of rice being developed by a German company showed up in grain elevators in Arkansas and Missouri should serve as a wake-up call for California.

Hundreds of rice farmers in Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana have filed lawsuits claiming losses because of that contamination.

``It certainly underscores the urgency of taking action before things like that happen here,'' Huffman said.

The bill would clarify who would be responsible for damages if there was contamination. With some limited exceptions, it would be the seed producer, chemical company or other manufacturer paying for the genetically altered crop rather than the farmer growing it under contract.

``I'm not interested in farmers suing farmers...,'' Huffman said. ``The kind of damage that can occur when cross-contamination does happen can be of a scale where you're not going to be able to make farmers whole unless they can hold the manufacturer responsible.''

The measure also would identify who was involved in genetically modified crop production. Right now, no one seems to have a clear idea of how much of that activity is taking place in California.

The bill would prevent the mixing of pharmaceutical plants with other crops by preventing those projects from being conducted in open fields.

``We're seeing food crops being engineered to grow chemicals as an alternative way of producing things like vaccines and antibiotics,'' Huffman said. ``That is fascinating stuff, but obviously you don't want those crops getting into the food supply.''

Huffman's bill might go too far for some segments of California's agriculture industry and not far enough for others.

Greg Massa, co-chairman of the Rice Producers of California, said he welcomes Huffman's bill but added, ``I don't really know if it's enough.''

His group of 200 farmers wants a moratorium on genetically modified rice experimentation and production. A study it commissioned found that California growers could lose about 40 percent of their rice market if Japan, China and several other nations imposed trade embargoes to keep out genetically modified crops.

``We can't take the risk,'' Massa said. ``The report we just put out said pretty clearly that our customers don't want (genetically engineered crops) and that contamination in California would be much more severe than in the South.''

A California law adopted in 2000 might give farmers enough protection already, said Tim Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the California Rice Commission, which represents growers and marketers.

That statute, the California Rice Certification Act, provides for a committee representing growers, handlers, warehouses and researchers to suggest regulations designed to prevent the intermingling of different varieties of rice.

``That really has provided us, at least up to this point, the tools we need to manage customers' response to genetically modified crops,'' Johnson said. ``That said, the industry will take as deliberative a review of Mr. Huffman's legislation as we did in developing the California Rice Certification Act of 2000.''

The California Farm Bureau Federation opposes the bill ``as it stands now,'' said Cynthia Cory, the bureau's director of environmental affairs.

But she said her group of 91,000 farmers and others in the agriculture industry, including companies engaged in genetic engineering, is willing to work with Huffman.

``Biotechnology across the board is very important to this state,'' she said. ``I don't think the bill acknowledges that.''

The bill's ban on open-field production of corn and other crops for use in medications could curtail ``a cheap and effective way to produce the drugs,'' Cory said.

Huffman's bill may be unnecessary because legal remedies already exist, said Richard Matteis, executive vice president of the California Seed Association, which also represents some companies involved in genetic engineering.

``In California, I'm not aware of any growers being damaged because of the presence of biological crops in their crops,'' he said. ``I think the system is working.''

Huffman's bill is similar to legislation introduced in 2005 by Assemblyman John Laird. That measure passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee but died in the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

Laird, D-Santa Cruz, said his bill ran into ``big fears that (it) would get in the way of certain agriculture production.''

``I think those fears are misplaced,'' he said. ``I think it's an issue of markets. There are potentially markets that will close themselves to American crops if they believe there is (a genetically modified crop) involved.''

Huffman's bill might have a better chance of passing because of increased concern about the potential threat posed by the inadvertent spread of genetically modified grasses and crops since his bill failed, Laird said.

Several federal court rulings in the last six months have found that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been lax in enforcing environmental protections on genetically modified crop projects, Laird said.

In one case, a judge ordered the department to conduct more detailed reviews of genetically engineered plant projects after studies found that pollen from weed killer-resistant grass had drifted more than 12 miles from plots in Madras, Ore., and bred with conventional plants.

``Two things are inevitable on this issue,'' Huffman said. ``One is genetic engineering is here to stay. We're going to see it more and more.

``But the second is there is going to be some regulation of this, and hopefully we can put a coherent policy in place before California experiences a cross-contamination disaster like the one that happened in Arkansas.''