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Synthesis/Regeneration 19   (Spring 1999)

Keeping Monsanto's Fake Corn Out of Maine: What We Did

by Nancy Oden, CLEAN: Maine

Maine's Pesticide Control Board (PCB) puts out an agenda so we always know what's coming up. In late 1997, the agenda listed Novartis and another genetically engineered field corn. This was Bt corn with a Liberty (powerful herbicide) resistant gene stuck in, which served also as their marker gene. (Always ask, when inquiring what's in these fake foods, what are the marker genes. Often, the markers are more dangerous than the one they're applying for.)

I importuned the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association to get involved, and we called and e-mailed people we knew and made it clear what was at stake. When the fake corn came before the Board, we had people there from CLEAN: Maine, MOFGA, the Maine Greens, Native Forest Network, Earth First!, students, and mommies with babies.

The Maine Commissioner of Agriculture said Maine farmers needed GE corn to be competitive with other states, etc. But we were strong and logical and clearly determined. Board chair Dr. Alan Lewis, after hearing all testimony, said he saw no need for this corn, and carried the Board. His objection was that they hadn't proven need. Our position was that it was fundamentally wrong. Nonetheless, we won. The Bangor Daily News reported that Maine was now the only state where permits for fake corn had been sought and refused. We were jubilant, but watchful.

Sure enough, in November '98, here came the agenda listing DeKalb (Monsanto) and Northrup-King fake corn applications on the PCB agenda. They were back. This time we had the national and international genetic engineering e-mail lists. We sent out our fact sheet and list of Web sites so they could know whereof they spoke.

The local daily newspaper Bangor Daily News(BDN) printed my op-ed piece on GE food, then I wrote a letter which appeared in the BDN the day before the meeting, inviting everyone to come speak their minds.

Well, the day before the meeting, Monsanto called the PCB and withdrew their application. Since the item was still on the agenda, and since some people showed up anyway, we did have a discussion of GE corn at the PCB meeting. It was worth it; we smoked out a University of Maine biochemistry professor who sounded just like Monsanto. Turns out his specialty is plant genes.

Some Ways to Inform & Organize People Around GE Food

Nancy Oden

Aside from organizing demonstrations, sticker campaigns, possibly some decontaminations, and other creative actions, we're in the middle of two tactics you might want to try, if you have them available to you:

A friendly legislator introduced a bill for us to the Maine State Legislature which would mandate labeling of all genetically engineered food that is produced in, or that comes into, the State of Maine.

Our second inform-and-organize project is a Rulemaking Petition to the Maine Department of Agriculture demanding a five-year moratorium on the introduction and production of genetically engineered life forms into the State of Maine. We don't need a lawyer; we'll just write it ourselves to say exactly what we want. When complete, we'll pass on the wording.

Rulemaking Petitions have been used primarily by industry and agribusiness to petition government agencies to approve their environmentally-destructive projects quickly and quietly, with less citizen participation in the decision making. They've been quite successful, but they don't dare kill this tool; they need it themselves.

A Rulemaking Petition only needs 150 signatures of registered Maine voters, then the agency we've addressed must schedule a public hearing on the Petition. Public hearings are wonderful, and we have to fight to get as many as possible.

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