IN RECENT YEARS UNIVERSITIES AND SEED COMPANIES HAVE REPORTED INCIDENTS OF VANDALISM TO TEST PLOTS OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS. NOW THE CALIFORNIA GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS CONSIDERING LEGISLATION THAT WOULD STIFFEN THE PENALTIES FOR DESTROYING RESEARCH CROPS. THE CALIFORNIA LEGISLATION SEEKS TO MAKE A PERSON WHO WILLFULLY DESTROYS SUCH A CROP LIABLE FOR TWICE ITS VALUE. IF RESEARCH COSTS ARE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT, THE RESTITUTION COULD BE HEFTY.
HOWEVER, GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT IS NOT LIKELY TO COOL THE PASSION THAT HAS BEEN GENERATED ON THE ISSUE OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED CROPS. A CASE IN POINT IS THIS WEEK'S WHITE HOUSE DIRECTIVE TO FIRM UP THE RULES THAT WILL GOVERN THE CONDUCT OF THE NEW TECHNOLOGY.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS, OR G-M-Os, WERE ONCE REFFERED TO AS THE SAVIORS OF A STARVING WORLD. NOW U.S. LAWMAKERS ARE BEGINING TO ACCEPT THE FACT U.S. GOVERNMENT STATEMENTS OF SAFETY ARE NOT ENOUGH AND MORE EMOTIONAL NEGATIVE OPNIONS MAY PREVAIL.
IN RESPONSE, THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION WEIGHED IN THIS WEEK WITH A DIRECTIVE TO THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, WHICH HAS ALREADY APPROVED MORE THAN 50 PRODUCTS SINCE 1992, TO MAKE STRONGER RULES FOR G-M-Os.
THE PROPOSED RULES WOULD:
-REQUIRE BIOTECH COMPANIES GIVE THE F-D-A FOUR MONTHS NOTICE BEFORE RELEASING A NEW PRODUCT.
-MAKE IT HARDER FOR BIOTECH COMPANIES TO TAKE THE F-D-A TO COURT IF THEY REJECT A NEW TRANSGENIC PRODUCT.
-AND, MAKE FARMERS AND PROCESSORS WHO WANT TO LABEL THEIR PRODUCTS AS G-M-O FREE FOLLOW STRINGENT GUIDELINES.
THE DIRECTIVE DID NOT REQUEST ANY E-P-A, F-D-A, OR U-S-D-A RULES BE CHANGED.
AND TO AID IN THE DETECTION OF G-M-Os IN FOOD OR FEED THE U-S-D-A WAS DIRECTED TO DEVELOP NEW TESTS.
GOVERNOR TOM VILSACK, IOWA: ... "in fact, some would suggest this is new science, but I would make the case this is not new science it's simply quicker science."
THE RISING TIDE OF OBJECTIONS HAS SPAWNED BIPARTISAN EFFORTS AMONG GOVERNMENTAL REPRESENTATIVES OF BOTH MAKERS OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED SEEDS AND FARMERS WHO GROW THEM. AN EXAMPLE IS THE THIRTEEN STATE "GOVERNORS BIOTECHNOLOGY PARTNERSHIP" WHICH IS CO-CHAIRED BY NORTH DAKOTA REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR ED SCHAFER AND IOWA DEMOCRATIC GOVERNOR TOM VILSACK.
VILSACK TYPIFIED THE CONFLICTING MESSAGES POSED BY ISSUES LIKE LABELING.
VILSACK: "So if we are to go to labeling then essentially what we would be doing is we would be changing our philosophy in this country of labeling to essentially label products which do not have a known risk. And I'm not sure we want, necessarily, to go down that road because I'm not sure where that road ends."
JACK CUSHMAN, NATIONAL PRESS CLUB PRESIDENT: "If there could be a way of certifying this kind of food products, would it make sense to allow producers to put a label on a food that says, 'this product contains no genetically modified crop.'"
VILSACK: "That's a slightly different question because now, you're leaving it up to the producer of the food product, and to the seller of the food product, to label. And they may have, for market reasons, be motivated to do that and that would certainly make sense."
CURRENTLY, U.S. LAWMAKERS AND PRODUCERS FACE A PUBLIC THAT VIEWS LABELS AS WARNING DEVICES AND NOT CONSCIOUSNESS RAISING INFORMATION PROVIDERS.
ONLY TIME WILL TELL IF THE NEW RULES WILL CALM TENSIONS. TO DATE, GERBER, FRITO-LAY, NESTLE, AND McDONALD'S HAVE ALL STATED THEY WILL NOT USE ANY GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS IN THEIR FOOD LINES. ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN, SHAREHOLDERS FOR BOTH CEREAL MAKER KELLOGG AND FOOD GIANT PEPSICO, THE PARENT COMPANY OF FRITO-LAY, VOTED TO ALLOW G-M-Os IN THEIR PRODUCTS.