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Monsanto Defeats GE Wheat Regulation Effort in North Dakota

February 6, 2003
Legislature defeats biotech wheat oversight board
By DALE WETZEL, Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D.

Advocates of tougher oversight for the possible North Dakota introduction of
biotech wheat lost two initiatives in the Legislature on Thursday, including
a bill to make it easier to sue the seed's producer.

Senators voted 28-19 to reject a proposal to put Monsanto Co. on the hook
for damages if a farmer's conventional wheat field is pollinated by
genetically modified wheat. Organic wheat farmers say such contamination
could make their crop worthless.

In the House, representatives defeated legislation to create a "transgenic
wheat board" with responsibility for monitoring biotech wheat research, as
well as reactions among North Dakota's foreign export customers to the idea
of buying the wheat. Even supporters of the board, which was defeated 65-27,
conceded it would have little power. Efforts to give it the authority to
block biotech wheat plantings were defeated, and the result, said Rep. Tom
Brusegaard, R-Gilby, was a "nebulous board" of dubious value.

"Obstructing the introduction of new (wheat) varieties is not going to help
the farmer," said Brusegaard, who farms in rural Grand Forks County.

"Transgenic wheat ... is something new on the surface, but if you look a
little bit deeper, they're crops. We've been raising them for 100 years and
we know how to do it," Brusegaard said. "Our farmers know what they're
doing, and they're going to continue to be leaders in the ag industry."

In the Senate, Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, who represents a western farming
and ranching district, sponsored legislation to give farmers a limited right
to recover damages if their fields were pollinated by unwanted biotech
wheat.

"It's to protect every farmer in the state of North Dakota before the
problem occurs," Bowman said.

Bowman's bill was opposed by Monsanto, a St. Louis-based company that is
developing a biotech variety of hard red spring wheat, which is North
Dakota's most common crop.

Monsanto already produces biotech soybeans, corn and canola that are
resistant to the company's Roundup weed killer. Normally, Roundup would kill
the crops along with the weeds.

The legislation would have allowed a farmer whose crop was affected by
nearby biotech wheat to force Monsanto to pay his revenue losses from
cross-pollination. For example, an organic farmer could collect the normal
price for a rejected wheat shipment.

Sen. Jack Traynor, R-Devils Lake, said the legislation would put a strict
liability legal standard on the company, meaning it would be assumed liable
for damages unless it was able to prove otherwise.

The bill did not exempt Monsanto from liability because of "acts of God,"
meaning the company could be blamed if a tornado went through a biotech
wheat field and affected other conventional fields as a result, Traynor
said.

North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University and the
University of Minnesota are studying the potential implications of biotech
wheat, Traynor said. Scientists say such cross-pollination among wheat
plants is rare if the fields are separated by at least 10 feet, he said.

"I would say this bill fails the legal test and the scientific test," said
Traynor, who is an attorney. "Let the research go on."

Bowman cited other studies that said wheat pollen, under certain conditions,
can move a mile or more. His legislation only asked that Monsanto be
responsible for its product, he said.

"Now, if they own the gene, shouldn't they be responsible for what that gene
does?" Bowman said.

Many of North Dakota's overseas wheat customers have indicated they want no
part of biotech wheat, Bowman said.

"This doesn't mean that we are against technology. This doesn't mean that
we're against research and all the great things that are going to come with
this science," he said. "This only means that when commerce is in action, we
want responsible commerce. We don't want commerce to come into North Dakota
that has the potential to destroy our crop, and destroy the market for our
spring wheat."

The transgenic wheat board bill is HB1026. The biotech wheat product
liability bill is SB2304.

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