March 7, 2000
The Honorable Dan K. Morhaim
Maryland House of Delegates
304 Lowe House Office Building
Annapolis, Maryland 21401-1991
Re: HB 257, Nongerminating Genetically Engineered Seed – Prohibition
Dear Delegate Morhaim:
Thank you for asking Consumers Union to comment on HB 257, Nongerminating Genetically Engineered Seed – Prohibition, which would prohibit the sale, distribution, or use of certain nongerminating genetically engineered seed in Maryland. I am sorry that we are unable to deliver these comments in person at the Environmental Matters Committee hearing on this legislation.
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to testing, educational programs, and information services to benefit consumers. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public and protect consumers.
Genetic seed sterilization technology – more commonly known as “terminator technology” – raises grave concerns for farmers, the environment, and ultimately all consumers.
Saving seed for planting in subsequent growing seasons has been an agricultural tradition for thousands of years. Many American farmers rely on this practice to make their operations profitable enough to continue farming year after year. In the third world, saving seed is absolutely essential for the survival of millions of people. Wide dissemination of gene sterilization technology would place a huge economic burden on these farmers, their families and the communities they serve. Moreover, there is no guarantee that use of these genetically altered seeds will increase yields (or commodity prices) sufficiently to make up for the additional cost of buying these seeds on an annual basis. Indeed, many farmers are now forced to sell their genetically modified crops, which do not yet contain sterilization genes, at a discount.
In addition, requiring farmers to purchase seed on an annual basis would dramatically shift the balance of power within the agricultural production system from the farmer to large agrochemical companies that have the economic clout to dictate farming practices on a global scale. Given the recent, and continuing, consolidation of agricultural seed production, this raises serious antitrust concerns.
More importantly, it raises questions about global food security. Multi-national corporations would be in a position to make binding decisions about who will have access to seed, and therefore who will not, and all of the genetically altered traits the seed will carry. All of this would be on terms most favorable to the seed company. This concentration of power obviously has potentially dangerous implications for farming, consumers, and the global economy.
Also of great concern is the impossibility of containing this technology once it is introduced into the environment. No use of technology can ensure that the sterilization gene will not be transferred to other crops that were not engineered to carry this trait. This could have adverse consequences for farmers who have chosen to avoid genetically engineered crops simply because they are downwind of a field planted with gene sterilized crops. This raises liability questions, as well as concerns about future output from farms that are inadvertently contaminated. In addition, technology cannot prevent the transfer of the sterilization gene to wild plant species, the consequences of which are impossible to gauge.
Ultimately, the increased costs that farmers may have to bear because of gene sterilization technology would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher grocery bills. Use of the technology could reduce consumer choice as well. These concerns would become more acute as seed production is consolidated within fewer and fewer multi-national corporations with the power to dictate what ends up on the shelf. The only ones who seem to benefit from the introduction of gene sterilization technology would be the agrochemical companies that produce the seeds.
For these reasons, we oppose the development, sale or use of gene sterilization technologies, and therefore support HB 257. We urge its favorable consideration by the Environmental Matters Committee and the Maryland General Assembly.
Thank you again for asking us to comment on this legislation.
Adam J. Goldberg
Washington, DC Office