A Look at the State-Level Food and Ag Legislative Horizon

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This year, 45 states’ and Puerto Rico’s legislatures will be in session – and BIO will be keeping an eye on all of them for proposed measures that may impact this broad industry. Below you will find a listing of issues that BIO’s Food and Agriculture State Government Relations Committee expect to be at play in the first half of the year (most state legislatures will adjourn by summer):

  • Seed Manufacturer Liability/Farmer “Protection” Acts: Past bills at their most extreme would place seed manufacturers as strictly liable for any damage or impact from biotech seed anywhere along the value chain. Under law, only those manufacturers that have products inherently dangerous (such as explosives) are strictly liable in similar fashion. Previous bills have included overriding farmer contracts that may exist with manufacturers, as well as new methodologies for seed manufacturers to protect their intellectual property. While federal laws may ultimately preempt some of these proposals, none of this has helped to slow down the spate of introductions in over a dozen states for the past three years. A similar number of introductions is expected this year in western and northeastern states (mostly in areas where there is less biotech acreage as a percentage of overall agricultural crop acreage).
  • State Level Food and Nutrition Advisory Committees: There are various proposals for policy setting groups to advise the governor, the legislature and even local school boards to support more nutritious foods from “sustainable” and local agricultural sources. BIO has found that these types of bills either explicitly prohibit “GMO”-derived foods as being nutritious or sustainable, or instead support organic sourcing over all others. BIO worked against such bills last year in Wyoming, New Mexico, and Georgia. This year, similar bills already have been introduced in Colorado and Missouri.
  • Plant Biotech Restrictions and Bans: Whereas these types of proposals were the norm and bulk of literally hundreds of bills earlier this past decade, they were far fewer in number over recent years, and this year should not be different. BIO has noticed a smattering of these types of bills only in those states where there is little production agriculture. This trend also reflects a steady sophistication among the anti-biotechnology groups that now spend much of their resources on the liability or farmer protection types of measures, where they can somehow try and show that they are trying to protect small family farms from large multinational corporations. These types of ban proposals also have been showing up at the local level such as last year in a Maine municipality, or more recently in Monterey and Napa counties of California.
  • GMO-Derived Food Labeling: Like the blanket bans, we’re seeing fewer of these types of proposals than in the past. Key victories against biotech-derived food labeling in the United States, such as failed state ballot measures and federal court rulings, have been helpful in deterring new initiatives. However, food labeling schemes are being proposed by legislators in New Hampshire and Hawaii for their 2010 sessions.
  • Animal Cloning-Derived Food Labeling/Cloned Animal Bans: Following FDA’s risk assessment two years ago, which determined that meat and milk derived from cloned animals is safe for human consumption, BIO worked to defend against legislative labeling proposals for food from cloned animals in thirteen states for each of the last two years. BIO expects to work on this issue in a similar number of states in 2010.

Last year, BIO lobbied against legislation to ban cloned quarter horses from racing in California and Oklahoma. Part of the industry argument included the fact that quarter horse racing associations govern the sport in those states and already have such policies in place – state law would add nothing, and instead could have unintended consequences against animal cloning technologies. California’s proposal was ultimately withdrawn by the sponsor after lobbying by BIO, while Oklahoma passed the onerous legislation.

GE Animal Bans: On the genetically engineered animal side, BIO and member companies have worked with state level agencies in the past in their rulemaking concerning invasive species to ensure that science-based factors are used in setting policy. Alaska and Maryland have long-existing bans on the introduction of transgenic fish, for example. Additionally, some states’ fish and wildlife agencies have rules in place that mention introduction of transgenic fish species.

Sustainable Agriculture: BIO is looking for opportunities in certain states where there may be a need for technology supportive sustainability policy. BIO also will work to address public policy proposals supportive of notions of sustainable production that only include organic or similar processes. BIO expects many states to refer to sustainability in a number of different policy debates related to food, fiber, and energy production over the course of the next few years. BIO will closely monitor these types of proceedings and engage where appropriate to represent the industry.

For more information, contact Ab Basu at abasu@bio.org.