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OCA Anti-GE Resolution Passes Minneapolis City Council
Biotech Industry Complains

Note: The Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton, deluged by phone calls
from organic consumers in Minneapolis, ignored the pleas of the biotech
industry and signed the anti-GE, pro-organic City Council resolution on
August 30. City council member Jim Niland introduced the resolution on
behalf of the Organic Consumers Association, who mobilized our members &
supporters in Minneapolis to make certain the resolution passed.

Biotech group criticizes City Council's anti-GM stance
Sharon Schmickle, Star Tribune, Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Minnesota's biotechnology industry asked the Minneapolis City Council on
Tuesday to reconsider a resolution that industry leaders called a
"hard-line stance against genetically enhanced foods."

The resolution that the council passed 11-1 Friday "serves no purpose other
than to degrade and discredit the research in food betterment that is being
done at the University of Minnesota and at a number of important
Minnesota-based agribusiness companies," said Martha ten Sythoff, executive
director of MNBIO.

MNBIO, which represents medical companies, food producers, university
science departments, financial institutions and several state agencies,
based its strongest objections on two statements in the resolution. The
city went on record stating that GM foods "have not been adequately tested
by any federal agency for long-term impacts on human health or the
environment" and that the foods "could have serious impacts on levels of
toxins in food, antibiotic resistance, cancer, immunosuppression and
allergic reactions, and may be particularly threatening to children and the
elderly."

The statements are "blatantly inaccurate," Sythoff said.

Council Member Jim Niland, the resolution's author, stood by its wording.
MNBIO is the "mouthpiece for corporations that profit from genetically
engineered foods," he said. "Their interest is in profit for themselves,
not protecting consumers' health."

Genetically modified (GM) foods and crops are regulated by the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of
Agriculture. After initial tests during the 1980s and early '90s, the
agencies concluded that GM food poses no more risk to consumers than does
conventional fare. Thus, companies aren't required to submit any testing
results unless genes are introduced that could trigger allergic reactions
or other unusual problems.

In April, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report supporting that
position. But the report also called for better methods of identifying
potential allergy problems. Expert panels at the Food and Agricultural
Organization of the United Nations and the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development have come to similar conclusions.

Niland disputed the reports, saying he has access to studies that show
potential links to cancer and other health problems.

But Council Member Barbara Johnson, a nurse who cast the lone dissenting
vote, called the resolution's language "unnecessarily alarmist and
inflammatory." She joined MNBIO's call for reconsidering the measure.

She also said the resolution is a "slap in the face" to leaders at the
Minnesota Legislature who influence state funding for the city and also
represent rural areas. One-fourth of the corn crops and more than half of
the soybeans crops in Minnesota and other Midwestern states this summer are
GM varieties that help fight pests. Farmers also have adopted GM varieties
of potatoes, tomatoes, squash and other crops.

Council president Jackie Cherryhomes said Tuesday, "Anything could be
reconsidered by us." But she also called the objections an overreaction to
a measure that "should not be particularly threatening to people."

Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton has yet to sign the measure, which City Hall
insiders have dubbed the "Zucchini Resolution." It urges the city and the
Minneapolis public schools to offer organic options for school lunches and
other settings. It also calls for Congress to pass bills requiring labels
on foods containing GM ingredients.

Staff writer Sharon Schmickle can be contacted @at schmisa@startribune.com

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