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State Legislatures Warming to Ag Biotech, Analysis Finds

May 24, 2004

Concerns for wheat and organic markets remain, however

While state governments across the country are overwhelmingly in favor of health-related biotechnology, agricultural biotechnology has received a somewhat less enthusiastic reception. That may be changing - however slowly - according to new information released last week by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

The group finds state legislatures in 2003 considered significantly more legislation in support of ag biotech 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 ag biotech 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 (GM) wheat. In the Northeast (including Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont), state legislators have sought to protect local agricultural markets, many of which are organic, the Pew Initiative adds.

Conversely, the Iowa legislature was very active, introducing 16 bills and passing four. The legislation introduced in Iowa decidedly favored biotechnology, supporting ag biotech as an important tool that can help Iowa maintain its position as an agricultural powerhouse.

At least 130 pieces of agricultural biotechnology legislation were introduced in 32 states in 2003, the Pew Initiative notes. This reflects a slight increase over the 121 pieces of legislation introduced in 31 states during the first year of the 2001-2002 legislative session. Only 20 percent of the 130 bills considered in 2003 passed, while 30 percent passed in in 2001.

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

During the 2001-2002 legislative session, only 5 percent of the total legislation introduced nationwide (or eight pieces of legislation) comprised the “support biotechnology” category. In contrast, 36 percent of the legislation introduced in 2003 (47 bills and three resolutions) supported biotech – 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).

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.

More information is available at: http://pewagbiotech.org/newsroom/releases/051704.php3