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Pew Initiative Analysis Finds Checkerboard of State Legislation

Washington, DC – A new fact sheet and updated database released today by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology finds that state legislatures in 2003 considered significantly more legislation in support of agricultural biotechnology than in the entire 2001-2002 legislative session. This increase appears to mark a shift away from efforts to curb violent destruction of field crops and test sites – the topic that dominated the last legislative session.

At the same time, the Pew Initiative analysis finds resistance to agricultural biotechnology in the Northern Plains States (including Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) where some growers are concerned that wheat markets may be negatively impacted by the introduction of genetically modified wheat and in the Northeast (including Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont) where state legislators have sought to protect local agricultural markets, many of which are organic.

“The 2003 legislative session confirms our belief that the introduction of biotechnology has given rise to a complex web of issues that vary from region to region, and that state legislators may feel are inadequately addressed at the federal level” said Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. “The increasing level of state activity raises the question of whether or not state laws will ultimately create a checkerboard of inconsistent legislation where rules for agricultural biotechnology vary from state-to-state.”

The active role of the states was originally identified in the Initiative’s analysis of the 2001-2002 legislative session. During that time period only five percent of the total legislation introduced nationwide (or eight pieces of legislation) comprised the “support biotechnology” category.

In contrast, in 2003, 36 percent of the legislation introduced (47 bills and three resolutions) supported biotechnology – often as part of general economic development initiatives – by proposing to:

  • implement research and education initiatives (13 pieces of legislation were introduced, seven passed);

  • facilitate economic and business development for the state by providing loans and other assistance (20 pieces of legislation were introduced, six passed);

  • or offer tax incentives to biotechnology corporations and businesses (17 pieces of legislation were introduced, six passed).

Legislation introduced in 2003 also mirrors regional concerns about agricultural biotechnology. Once again, legislators from Hawaii introduced more legislation pertaining to agricultural biotechnology than any other state, accounting for 19 percent (19 bills and six resolutions) of all biotech legislation introduced in 2003. Legislation introduced in Hawaii includes bills that try to increase the amount of agricultural research in the state, that attempt to protect and potentially capitalize on Hawaii’s unique natural biodiversity, and others that seek to make information about GM crop field trials public.

The Iowa legislature was also very active, introducing 16 bills and passing four. The legislation introduced in Iowa was decidedly supportive of biotechnology, reflecting support for agricultural biotechnology as an important tool which can help Iowa maintain its position as an agricultural powerhouse.

Conversely, legislators from the Northern Plains States (including Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) introduced 10 bills which reflect growing concern among wheat producers over the market impact of applying genetic engineering technology to wheat – a valuable export commodity for these states. Similarly, legislators from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont – states that have a significant organic agricultural sector – continued to introduce bills which seek moratoria (five bills), labeling requirements (six bills), and other legislation (three bills) which could curb the introduction of agricultural biotechnology in that region.

The fact sheet, entitled “2003 Legislative Activity Related to Agricultural Biotechnology” chronicles and catalogues state legislative activity relating to agricultural biotechnology in the first year of the 2003-2004 legislative session. When appropriate, comparisons are made to a similar analysis of the 2001-2002 legislative session released by the Pew Initiative in June 2003. The fact sheet is accompanied by LegislationTracker, a database that archives state legislation as well as some federal legislation, ballot initiatives, and town hall resolutions introduced since early 2001.

Highlights of the research include:

  • The 2003-2004 legislative session is on track to be more robust than the 2001-2002 session. 130 pieces of agricultural biotechnology legislation were introduced in 32 states in 2003, compared to the 121 pieces of legislation introduced in 31 states during the first year of the 2001-2002 legislative session.

  • In 2003, legislation fell into six major categories: supporting biotechnology; implementing new or changing existing state regulatory systems for GM crops and animals; developing standards for labeling foods which may have GM ingredients; addressing liability issues raised by agricultural biotechnology or developing standards for agricultural contracts; commissioning long-term studies to look at specific issues related to agricultural biotechnology; and banning certain GM crops or animals.

  • No bills introduced in 2003 address the violent or willful destruction of GM crops. Since “anti-crop destruction” was the largest category of bills introduced during the 2001-2002 session, the absence of bills on this topic likely means states have already enacted legislation addressing this issue in prior sessions.

  • Fewer bills addressing the subject of labeling were introduced in 2003 (only nine bills or seven percent of the total legislation introduced) than in 2001-2002 (25 bills or 16 percent of the total legislation introduced).

  • Less than a third of the legislation introduced, actually passed and become law. Of the 130 pieces of legislation introduced in 32 states in 2003, only 27 pieces (21 bills and six resolutions) were passed, representing 21 percent of the total introduced. This reflects a slight decline from the first year of the 2001-2002 legislative session when 30 percent of all bills introduced passed.

The fact sheet can be viewed at: http://pewagbiotech.org/resources/factsheets/legislation/factsheet.php.

The database can be viewed at: http://pewagbiotech.org/resources/factsheets/legislation

The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research project whose goal is to inform the public and policymakers on issues about genetically modified food and agricultural biotechnology, including its importance, as well as concerns about it and its regulation. It is supported by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to the University of Richmond.

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