Testimony of the Biotechnology Industry Organization
Submitted to the California Assembly Committee on Agriculture
April 29, 2005
Regarding Assembly Bill 984: Manufacturer Liability
On behalf of the members of the Biotechnology Industry Organization
(BIO)—which works closely in California with its affiliates BayBio,
BIOCOM, and CHI, please accept this testimony in opposition to Assembly
Bill 984. The bill provides “that the manufacturer of a genetically
engineered plant…is liable to any producer, grain, and seed cleaner, handler,
or processor injured by the release of that plant into California.” These
agricultural products on the market have proven to be effective for farmers,
highly regulated and as safe as conventional and organic products, and pose
no unique threat. As you deliberate this proposed legislation, we hope you
will consider these facts.
Adoption and Benefits
The widespread adoption of six biotechnology-derived crops has increased
farmer income, boosted yields, reduced pesticide use and spurred greater use
of environmentally friendly no-till agriculture, according to a study by the
National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.
Eighty-five percent of all soybeans grown in the U.S. are improved through
biotechnology. So is 76% of the cotton, and 45% of the corn grown in this
country. These plants are safe to grow and safe to eat. The technology is
effective and farmers use it. Compared with conventional crops, the study suggested that the six
biotechnology-derived crops — canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soybean and
squash — increased grower incomes by an additional $1.9 billion, boosted
crop yields by 5.3 billion pounds and reduced pesticide use by 46.4 million
pounds in 2003. The growers who received the greatest economic gains
from biotechnology-derived crops in 2003 were in the principal corn- and
soybean-growing states of the Upper Midwest: Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota.
But there were economic benefits in all 42 states where the six
biotechnology-derived crops (11 different varieties) were grown.
The U.S. is not alone in developing products of agricultural biotechnology.
In 2004, global plantings of crops improved through biotechnology
increased to 200 million acres, a 20% increase over 2003 and the sixth
consecutive year of growth at a sustained rate of over 10%. Biotechnologyderived
plants are grown in 16 countries by 6 million farmers.
According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications (ISAAA), biotechnology-derived crops have delivered
significant agronomic, environmental and social benefits to small and large
farmers and to society, and contributed to a more sustainable agriculture.
These crops have lead to increased productivity gains in both the developed
countries like the U.S. and Canada, and in countries like China, Brazil and
Argentina. These productivity gains help maintain the world’s arable land
base, and prevent new lands being lost to agricultural expansion.
Biotechnology-derived crops have contributed to a substantial reduction in
pesticide volumes used in production agriculture and have provided
economic and social benefits to growers in both developed and developing
countries by reducing time and production costs, and increasing yields.
Biotechnology-derived crops are among the most extensively tested, wellcharacterized,
and closely regulated food, feed and fiber crops ever
developed. The U.S. regulatory process, in effect since 1986, is designed to
ensure that these crops are as safe to grow as conventional crops and as
wholesome, nutritious and safe to eat as conventional or organic crops. For
crops on the market today, that finding has been made by scientific and
regulatory authorities in the U.S. and throughout the world. In that regard, it
is worth noting that no comparable review is made for new varieties of
conventional or organic crops that may have similar characteristics, even
those produced through wide crosses.
In the U.S., all commercial crops improved through biotechnology have
been thoroughly assessed for human and animal health and environmental
safety according to well-established, internationally accepted, scientific
standards and guidelines by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and, where the plant produces a
pesticidal substance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Notwithstanding nearly two decades of extensive governmental, academic
and industry oversight, not a single instance of actual harm to health, safety
or the environment has ever been confirmed for any biotechnology-derived
crop placed on the market.
Cross-pollination and Organic Crops
Genetic improvements made through molecular biology do not change the
basic pollination characteristics of the crop and the issue of cross-pollination
is not a new or different issue for growers, nor is it unique to biotechnologyderived
plants. Growers of specialty crops have developed “identitypreservation”
processes to manage cross-pollination from neighboring crops.
These types of crops include popcorn, blue corn, sweet corn, canola, and
soybeans for tofu, as well as organic crops and crops sold to the European
Growers of “specialty” crops typically receive a premium for their goods in
the marketplace. These growers assume the responsibility of meeting
specific criteria, they put processes in place to meet these criteria, and they
are rewarded with a premium price. Biotechnology-derived commodity
crops (such as corn, cotton or soybeans) are not specialty crops, and growers
of these crops do not receive a premium for them. The U.S. government
considers these crops identical to other types of commodity crops, and the
market independently values them that way.
An organic farmer, or any farmer, who signs a contract guaranteeing “0%
GMO” assumes the responsibility for ensuring that level, just as that farmer
bears the responsibility for meeting any other contractual obligation, such as
crop quality, size or color.
Farmers recognize that biological systems are inherently imperfect — there
is no such thing as “100% pure” in nature. Biological systems are dynamic,
not static. The movement and dissemination of pollen and seeds is natural
and inevitable, and sexually compatible crops have exchanged genes for
centuries. It should also be recognized that, as analytical techniques
continue to improve in sensitivity, if we look hard enough, long enough and
often enough, we are likely to find imperfections, impurities and
contaminants just about everywhere.
Historically, the presence of unintended impurities (“adventitious presence”)
in food, feed and seed has been recognized and accepted in laws, regulations
and standards that establish allowances for these impurities or otherwise
ensure that their presence is safe. Examples of such allowances include:
• “Corn” must consist of at least 50% corn and no more that 10% of
other grains (USDA)
• “No. 1 Grade Corn” may include up to 2% broken corn and
“foreign materials” (USDA)
• Seed of a particular hybrid may contain up to 5% of a different
hybrid without identification (USDA)
• “Organic” products may include up to 5% of listed synthetic
substances (including pesticides) and up to 5% of the EPA
allowable levels for prohibited pesticides (USDA Organic Rule)
• “Sugar Free” foods may contain up to 0.5 gram of sugar per
• “Nonfat Yogurt” may contain up to 0.5% milk fat (FDA)
• “Decaffeinated” coffee may contain up to 3% caffeine (FDA)
In full recognition of the realities of how crops are grown, the National
Organic Program was established in 2000 as a process-based standard, it is
not a guarantee of a pure product. This policy has been the case for decades,
well before Congress told USDA to get involved, and was adopted as part of
the National Organic Program at the urging of the organic industry. The
organic label guarantees that an approved process was used to grow the
crops — it is not a claim or guarantee of product superiority or even "GMO
USDA recently confirmed the policy, as originally stated in the preamble to
the Organic Rule that, as long as an organic operation follows production
standards and practices that meet the applicable USDA requirements, the
unintentional presence of a product of an excluded method, such as
biotechnology, does not affect the certification of the operation or the crop
under the National Organic Program. USDA has made it clear that it is up to
the organic producer and the organic certifier to ensure a proper buffer zone
is in place to protect the integrity of an organic crop. Furthermore, if an
approved buffer zone is later found to be inadequate, the certifying agent
must not punish the producer retroactively by an enforcement action or “decertify”
the organic crop; rather, the buffer zone should be reevaluated for
Importantly, USDA is not aware of any instance in which certification has
been lost due to adventitious presence of biotechnology-derived material.
Moreover, in the agency’s view, the unintended presence of such material
does not affect the status of the certified operation and does not necessarily
result in loss of organic status for the organic product, provided it was
produced in adherence with all of the organic requirements under the
USDA has made it clear that GM, GE, and GMO-free claims are not part of
the National Organic Standards, and "organic" is not synonymous with
"GM-free." Further, in the department’s view, the National Organic
Program is voluntary and confers no rights on organic producers to control
the activities of non-organic producers.
For the numerous reasons stated, we feel there is no basis in science or law
to support establishment of a separate liability regime for biotechnology derived
crops. It would prove a disservice for farmers, for California and for
the future of agriculture. We encourage the Committee to oppose this
Respectfully submitted by:
Kathleen A. McGrath
Director, State Government Relations
Biotechnology Industry Organization
1225 Eye Street, NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20005
BIO represents more than 1,100 biotechnology companies, academic institutions,
state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and 31 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of healthcare, agricultural,
industrial and environmental biotechnology products.