February 12, 2015
Groups Urge State Ag Officials to Protect Local Rights on GMO Bans
Sacramento, CA–Five consumer, food safety, and environmental organizations urged the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) today to affirm its commitment to allow local governments to control the planting and sale of genetically engineered (GE) seeds and crops (also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs).
Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Environmental Working Group, Food and Water Watch, and Pesticide Action Network pressed state officials to clarify and enact new rules to address these concerns, citing the need for a more formal position from CDFA. The concerns gained added attention as federal officials, including California Senator Barbara Boxer, introduced a bill to label genetically engineered foods earlier in the day.
Last August, Governor Brown signed AB 2470 (Salas). According to legislative analysis, the law was meant to clarify regulation of “invasive plants” after conflicts arose between CDFA and the City of Encinitas over a proposed new local policy. Following the quiet passage of AB 2470, community members and political leaders—including in Los Angeles and Sonoma—raised concerns about the implications of the law for their efforts to place restrictions on GE crops.
“We are pleased to have received confirmation from CDFA Secretary Karen Ross of the agency’s assessment that the intent of AB 2470 is not to prohibit local action on GMOs,” said Elisa Odabashian, West Coast Director of Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports.
State agricultural officials have attempted to clarify the bill in communications to their local representatives. In a November 2014 memo to county agricultural commissioners, CDFA County Liaison Gary Leslie shared the following statement on behalf of the department:
“At no point does the language of the bill reference GMOs. In fact, the Senate Floor analysis explicitly states that, “the request for this preemption arose from a proposed “Policy for Invasive Plants” drafted by the City of Encinitas. Therefore, it is clear that the legislative intent does not extend to the issue of GMOs. Therefore, the Department of Food and Agriculture will be interpreting this provision as such.”
“We are pleased that CDFA has clarified its position that AB 2470 does not cover county laws governing the planting of GE crops,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director at Center for Food Safety. “We hope the department will move quickly to develop regulations clarifying that GE crop plantings will not be affected under AB 2470.”
While advocates for local rights consider this memo a step in the right direction, it won’t provide the appropriate clarity for local governments looking to advance new protections, or for the corporations that might oppose them.
“We look forward to the Department of Food and Agriculture formalizing their view of AB 2470 so that local governments who might want to regulate crops of one kind or another can proceed knowing that state officials have no problem with that,” said Bill Allayaud, California Director of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group.
Local authority over regulation of crops was not the only GMO-related issue taken up by last year’s legislature. SB 1381 (Evans), a bill proposing to label genetically engineered foods, was narrowly defeated in the California Senate, falling short of passage by just two votes. GMO issues are expected to be under scrutiny in 2015 as well, following years of attention in the state, including the narrow defeat of Proposition 37 (The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act) in 2012.
Efforts to preempt local control of GMOs are playing out across the country as well, including a federal bill proposing to pre-empt all state and local legislative efforts with voluntary labeling guidelines. At the state level, the global GE seed and pesticide corporation Syngenta led a successful effort in Oregon to preempt counties from exercising control over GMOs. Many of the same corporations have helped pass state laws to limit local control of pesticides in California and across the country.
Paul Towers, PAN, 916.216.1082
Naomi Starkman, Consumers Union, 917.539.3924