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Farmers pay heavy price for nuisance litigation

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POSTED June 27, 2013 12:55 a.m.

In general, we don’t take kindly to the government busting down our door and telling us how to live. Yet in 2010, the government did exactly that in a major way: a federal district court judge ordered the uprooting of over 250 acres of biotech-enhanced sugarbeets in Oregon. The safety of the genetically-enhanced produce was never in question; the seeds had previously been subjected to multiple, rigorous scientific tests and were determined by the government to be safe. Rather, anti-biotech advocates filed suit against the USDA over allegations of procedural technicalities in an effort to drive their political agenda at the expense of farmers.

In an effort to avoid repeating disasters like this, real and effective steps have been taken by our representatives in Congress to provide a necessary safeguard for those our farming communities: the Farmer Assurance Provision (FAP). Signed by the President in early 2013, the provision prevents judges from issuing such drastic measure and farmers can rest assured that their right to earn a living won’t be held hostage by senseless legal battles.

While the FAP is an incredibly powerful protection for regions like ours where the economy and workforce relies so heavily on agriculture, it is under attack by those in the anti-biotech lobby. And the claims of these activists are often flagrantly wrong. For example, they refer to the FAP as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” due to their incorrect perception that the law acts to shield corporations, rather than producers. The FAP was crafted to protect farmers who would otherwise be powerless against unfounded legal assaults; this is evidenced by the very language of the law, specifying that it only applies to the “farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer.”

These same activists often do not know – or choose to ignore – the actual makeup, safety and regulatory history of biotechnology-improved crops. Any assertion that these crops are dangerous to the public health is misleading, when in fact these crops make up a majority of certain produce staples because their safety is backed by both scientific and regulatory authority. Left out of the discussion is the fact that the FAP does not detract from the government’s ability to oversee and regulate food supply safety. The Secretary of Agriculture already has authority to address relevant concerns regarding any biotech seed trait, and the FAP explicitly leaves that authority in place.  

The FAP has garnered strong support from a number of key organizations in the farming community, including the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Former USDA Secretaries John Block and Mike Espy, several state secretaries and commissioners of agriculture, and the national associations of wheat, cotton, sugar beet and corn growers.

They understand the importance of this issue. California is one of the world’s premier agricultural hotspots and home to over 80,000 farms. The agriculture sector employs workers by the hundreds of thousands. As the Vice Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, I know that lip service does absolutely nothing to help our fellow farmers. They need our support.

As FAP is discussed by the media and our representatives in Congress, please keep our local family farmers in mind. The law does not shield giant corporations or bigwig CEO’s. The FAP allows the farmers in our communities to simply retain their right to earn an honest living. Please join me in urging our representatives to actively oppose any effort to overturn this crucial law.

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