States in Forefront of Agricultural Biotech Debate


States took the lead in debating regulation of genetically modified food and the agricultural biotechnology industry in 2001-2002, with 158 bills introduced in 39 states, a new report finds.

Despite the flurry of legislative activity, led by Hawaii (23 bills) and New York (19 bills), only 45 pieces of state legislation were enacted by last year and the majority of those (67 percent) were designed to protect the research and growth of genetically modified food from vandalism, according to the report from the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit organization.

"In the 2001-2002 legislative session, states simultaneously worked to protect and promote agricultural biotechnology while they grappled with defining legal responsibilities for the use and possible misuseof genetically modified crops and seeds," said Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

The project is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. It does not advocate for or against agricultural biotechnology, but instead provides news and research relevant to the public, media and policymakers involved in the debate over genetically modified products. ( is also funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, but is not affiliated with the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.)

Perhaps the most far-reaching measure considered in 2002 was a ballot initiative in Oregon, which, if passed, would have required labeling of all genetically engineered food sold or distributed in the state. The measure, which was defeated by a slim margin, was fiercely opposed by the agricultural biotechnology industry, which spent about $6 million campaigning against it, The Oregonian reported.

Since the 1990s, farm and research facilities where bioengineered crops and genetically modified animals are developed have been targeted and destroyed by so-called "eco-terrorists," who claim they oppose the genetic altering of food and animals. States responded in their 2001-2002 legislative session by passing 30 bills that created new criminal laws against and increased the penalties for people who willfully destroyed agricultural facilities.

Among the other issues debated in state legislatures in 2001-2002 where laws increasing the level of regulation for planting genetically modified crops, laws dealing with liability issues raised by the agriculture biotechnology industry, laws requiring long-term studies of bioengineered crops and laws banning certain crops from being grown. 


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