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Controversy Erupts in California Over Genetically Engineered Wine

Controversy Erupts in California Over
Genetically Engineered Wine

For immediate release: Thursday, May 31, 2001
For more information contact:
Kelly Campbell, CPR (415) 981-3939 x 6
Jessica Hamburger, PAN (415) 981-1771

NEWS RELEASE
Find Organic Cure for Pierce's Disease, Say Groups

Farming, Health and Environmental Organizations Call on State to
Direct More Research Funds to Finding an Organic Cure for Grape
Disease

SAN FRANCISCO-According to analysis by Pesticide Action
Network (PAN), the California Department of Food and Agriculture
(CDFA) is missing a tremendous opportunity to invest in an organic
future for the state's multi-billion dollar wine industry. PAN's analysis
of available research abstracts provided by CDFA indicates that
California's Pierce's Disease Control Program is spending far more
research funds on genetic engineering approaches to curing the grape
disease than on methods that support organic and sustainable
approaches to farming.

The available abstracts described projects accounting for $5 million,
over half of last year's $8.2 million research budget. Abstracts for
the remaining projects were still not available, more than three
months after they were requested.

Specifically, the analysis shows that:

CDFA allocated over two thirds of the research budget to projects
focused exclusively or partially on the search for genetic
engineering solutions to Pierce's disease.

The Department spent only 12 percent of its research dollars on
organic and sustainable approaches that were not part of a project
that included genetic engineering.

CDFA failed to fund collaborative on-farm research with organic
growers to investigate innovative grower practices and their
potential for management of Pierce's disease.

"Organic is the future, especially when it comes to wine," said
Jessica Hamburger of PAN and Californians for Pesticide Reform.
It makes more sense for CDFA to support the state's organic
growers in finding sustainable solutions to Pierce's disease than to
fund the biotech industry's university partners to develop 'Frankenwine'
that consumers will not want to buy." Brian Leahy of California Certified
Organic Farmers also supports a shift of CDFA funding from genetic
engineering to research that organic and other sustainable farmers
can use. "Organic research offers the potential for solutions that
benefit growers, the public and the environment," Leahy said.
"So-called 'GE solutions' put all of us at risk, especially growers,
who will have to re-plant all their vines and take a gamble that U.S.
consumers and export markets will accept the new GE grapes. It's also
unclear whether GE grapes will produce wine of the same caliber as
the grapes that have been naturally bred over many generations."

Organic and sustainable growers could benefit from CDFA's current
research on the use of parasitic wasps, instead of pesticides, to
control the glassy-winged sharpshooter, an insect that spreads
Pierce's disease. They could also make use of research on the use of
micronutrients and naturally occuring bacteria and fungi to control
Xylella fastidiosa, the bacteria that causes Pierce's disease.
However, CDFA needs to invest its research dollars in practical,
on-farm trials in order to make these organic solutions a reality.

In addition to neglecting organic research, CDFA has refused to
guarantee that organic farmers will not be forced to spray their
farms with synthetic pesticides as part of state-mandated emergency
Pierce's disease control program. Such applications would threaten
their farms' organic certification and disrupt existing biological
pest management systems.

"We want CDFA to help farmers find a cure for Pierce's disease, but
the Department also must support the kind of farming that protects
the health of our kids and the environment," said Sandra Sarrouf of
the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo. "We invite the public to
join us in calling for more investment in organic approaches at the
draft EIR hearings this summer." CDFA will hold hearings on the draft
environmental impact report on the Pierce's disease program around
the state in July.

While research on Pierce's disease continues, CDFA is supporting
county agricultural commissioners' implementation of emergency
pesticide applications to control the glassy-winged sharpshooter,
which spreads the disease. All county workplans, except for Santa
Cruz County's, authorize forced pesticide spraying of residences,
organic farms and natural areas against the will of individuals and
communities.

"We call on CDFA Secretary Lyons to direct all counties to remove
forced spray requirements from their workplans," said Shepherd Bliss,
an organic farmer and member of the No Spray Action Network in
Sonoma County. "If he does not, people will not report sightings of
the sharpshooter for fear of being sprayed, and the program will fail."

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