Legislators are becoming more supportive of agricultural biotechnology, according to a new fact sheet and updated database released today by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. The report reveals that state legislatures in 2003 considered significantly more legislation in support of agricultural biotechnology than in the entire 2001-2002 legislative session.
This increase appears to mark a shift away from efforts to curb violent destruction of field crops and test sites â€“ the topic that dominated the last legislative session. At the same time, the Pew Initiative analysis finds resistance to agricultural biotechnology in the Northern Plains States (including Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) where some growers are concerned that wheat markets may be negatively impacted by the introduction of genetically modified wheat. In the Northeast (including Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont) state legislators have sought to protect local agricultural markets, many of which are organic.
The active role of the states was originally identified in the Initiativeâ€™s analysis of the 2001-2002 legislative session. During that time period only 5% of the total legislation introduced nationwide (or eight pieces of legislation) comprised the "support biotechnology" category. In contrast, in 2003, 36% of the legislation introduced (47 bills and three resolutions) supported biotechnology â€“ often as part of general economic development initiatives â€“ by proposing to:
- Implement research and education initiatives (13 pieces of legislation were introduced, seven passed);
- Facilitate economic and business development for the state by providing loans and other assistance (20 pieces of legislation were introduced, six passed);
- Or offer tax incentives to biotechnology corporations and businesses (17 pieces of legislation were introduced, six passed).
In 2003, legislation fell into six major categories: supporting biotechnology; implementing new or changing existing state regulatory systems for GM crops and animals; developing standards for labeling foods which may have GM ingredients; addressing liability issues raised by agricultural biotechnology or developing standards for agricultural contracts; commissioning long-term studies to look at specific issues related to agricultural biotechnology; and banning certain GM crops or animals.
No bills introduced in 2003 address the violent or willful destruction of GM crops. Since "anti-crop destruction" was the largest category of bills introduced during the 2001-2002 session, the absence of bills on this topic likely means states have already enacted legislation addressing this issue in prior sessions.
Fewer bills addressing the subject of labeling were introduced in 2003 (only nine bills or seven% of the total legislation introduced) than in 2001-2002 (25 bills or 16% of the total legislation introduced).
The fact sheet, entitled "2003 Legislative Activity Related to Agricultural Biotechnology" chronicles and catalogues state legislative activity relating to agricultural biotechnology in the first year of the 2003-2004 legislative session. When appropriate, comparisons are made to a similar analysis of the 2001-2002 legislative session released by the Pew Initiative in June 2003. The fact sheet is accompanied by LegislationTracker, a database that archives state legislation as well as some federal legislation, ballot initiatives, and town hall resolutions introduced since early 2001.