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California | Fault Lines | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism

Food Fight: Federal, State and Local Powers Wrestle for Control over Food
by Michael Leonard ( sfbay-print [at] lists.indymedia.org )
Thursday Aug 24th, 2006 3:43 PM
Whatever your feelings about the dangers of genetically modified organisms, the state and federal governments recent legislative efforts to disempower local communities are truly frightening. Two specific areas of debate are the extent of local government’s control over the crops in their communities, and the information that consumers are given about the food they buy. These decisions will impact agriculture from seed to store shelf.
Last year, Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, introduced S.B. 1056. Its primary concern was reducing air pollution in the state, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley. The Senate approved it 31-8 in June. A month later, Florez offered an amended version of the bill that, quite literally, crossed out all content pertaining to air pollution and replaced it with a lot of language regarding seeds. Now the bill asserts that state regulations related to the sale and use of seeds and nursery stock operate “to the exclusion of local regulations” — meaning the state can ignore local communities like Mendocino or Santa Cruz that have banned genetically modified crops.

What prompted Senator Florez to ditch a successful effort and return with a much more controversial proposition that has been met by significant opposition? Calls to his office have yet to yield answers.

SF Bay Area Physicians for Social Responsibility oppose S.B. 1056. President Robert M. Gould, M.D., said, “This is not an issue specific to GMOs, but is rather a fundamental issue of allowing the existence of local policies that are more protective of health and the environment than state or federal standards.”

The bill will be heard on the Agricultural Assembly Floor in early August. The Organic Consumers Association is planning a statewide call-in day August 8th for constituents to voice their opposition to what they are calling “the Monsanto Bill.” Monsanto owns the rights to most of the genetically modified seeds used on American farms.

On the national level, H.R. 4167 is awaiting its turn on the Senate Floor. Passed by the House of Representatives in March 2006, the “National Uniformity for Food Act” would establish a standardized food labeling system across the 50 states. California has its own stringent practice since 1986’s Proposition 65. The proposition, as explained in a recent
AlterNet article, “prompted food corporations to make changes nationwide, since no company wanted to create a separate package for food sold in the most populous state. Because many companies felt it would look better to simply remove some ingredients than to say their products contained carcinogens, the law has led to the phase out of some 750 chemicals, according to California’s attorney general.” HR 4167 would force California to ignore Proposition 65 in favor of lax federal regulations more appealing to Big Agriculture businesses.

In an e-mail, Senator Dianne Feinstein explained her opposition to the measure: “H.R. 4167 prohibits states and localities from enacting food safety regulations that are stronger than those required by the federal government. It also prevents state and local governments from filling gaps in food safety laws when the federal government has no warning standards for a
food product.”

Wes Rolley, Organizer for the Rural Greens Caucus of the California Green Party, summed up the repercussions of the two bills on both chow and culture: “If localities can’t block state rulings and states can’t label their own food … it equals free reign for Big Agriculture to do whatever they want.”