Passage of Marin County GMO ban would encourage widespread use of harsh pesticides

October 26, 2004

The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) sent a letter today to Steve Kinsey, President of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, urging defeat of local Ballot Measure B. If passed, Measure B would prohibit growing genetically modified crops in the county.

Following is the letter sent by ASPB President Roger Hangarter, Professor, Indiana University, and ASPB Committee on Public Affairs Chair Pamela Ronald, Professor, University of California, Davis:

October 26, 2004

Mr. Steve Kinsey
President, Board of Supervisors
Marin County
3501 Civic Center Drive
Room 329
San Rafael, CA 94903

Dear Mr. Kinsey:

The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) urges Marin County voters to oppose local Ballot Measure B and its proposed ban on growing genetically modified crops.

If passed, Measure B would prohibit use of a widely accepted, environment-friendly technology in agriculture. Measure B would promote use of older technologies in agriculture that will subject county residents to increased exposure from chemical pesticides.

Measure B's exemption from the ban for medical research unfortunately does not apply to agricultural research. This failure to exclude agricultural research from the ban will prevent use here of one of the most promising technologies in agricultural research.

A review of the scientific literature shows that genetically engineered foods are safe to eat. For example, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies published a study this year which states that "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population." Furthermore they found that genetically engineered foods and traditionally bred food crops present similar risks. The report can be read on the National Academies web site at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309092094/html/ .

The progress of science using modern technologies, such as genetic engineering has lead to the reduction of pesticide usage and to less disease. For example, in China, use of genetically engineered cotton eliminated the use of 156 million pounds of pesticides in 2001. This reduction of 156 million pounds of pesticides in China is approximately equal to the entire amount of pesticides used annually in California. Further adoption of genetically modified crops in Marin and other California counties would lead to large reductions in pesticide use in the state. Reduction in the release of pesticides into the environment, including our lakes, rivers and streams, cuts down dramatically on exposure to harsh chemical pesticides by farm workers and millions of Americans. Genetically engineered plants that more effectively resist pests have also led to improved crop yields. Measure B encourages the current widespread use of toxic chemical pesticides in farming.

Furthermore, there are instances in which genetic engineering can produce healthier and safer foods than can be accomplished using traditional plant breeding technologies. Researchers based in California (University of California, Berkeley) have genetically engineered wheat, which will be much safer for people with wheat allergies to consume. Similarly, soybeans have been engineered with reduced allergens, which will lead to safer soy-based infant formula and other soy food products. Much lower levels of mycotoxins, known potential cancer-causing agents, have been found in lines of genetically engineered corn, compared to conventional corn. The reason for this is that the genetically engineered corn is more effective at preventing injury from insects, which is associated with high levels of mycotoxins. Genetically engineered rice, known as Golden Rice, with higher levels of beta carotene is a new tool that can be used to address Vitamin A deficiencies in the diets of people in much of the developing world. Lack of vitamin A causes millions of cases of blindness among children of poor nations as well as many childhood deaths.

The benefits that genetic modification of crops offer to the people throughout the world are substantial. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in a report issued in May of this year found that biotechnology and genetic engineering of crops hold great promise for agriculture in developing countries. The report noted that more than 70 percent of the world's poor still live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their survival. Agricultural research - including biotechnology - holds an important key to meeting their needs, the FAO said. The FAO added that biotechnology can speed up conventional breeding programs and may offer solutions where conventional methods fail.

Passage of Measure B would encourage the current widespread use of harsh chemical pesticides in farming. To promote healthier working conditions for farmers and hired farm workers, and for the benefit of other residents of the county, we urge you and your fellow voters in Marin County to vote "No" on Measure B.

Founded in 1924, ASPB is a non-profit society of nearly 6,000 plant scientists, including 450 scientists in California, based primarily at universities.

Sincerely,

Roger Hangarter
Professor, Indiana University
President, ASPB

Pamela Ronald
Professor, University of California, Davis
Chair, ASPB Committee on Public Affairs
-end-


American Society of Plant Biologists

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