Seth Roffman

Genetically Engineered (GE) and Genetically Modified (GMO) are terms that are often interchanged. GMO is the biotech industry’s preferred definition but the seeds are really genetically engineered. A hybrid seed is created, and then antibiotics (called markers so the companies know who owns the seed) and bacteria resistant to glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide are inserted. The process is patented.

Biotechnology companies such as Monsanto have been creating and patenting genetically engineered (GE) seeds that are resistant to herbicides. Farmers who want to plant these seeds enter into contracts with the seed manufacturer. The contract specifies that these seeds cannot be saved and replanted. However, it is very easy for these GE crops to cross-pollinate and contaminate neighboring fields. Biotech companies have sued neighboring growers across the US for “stealing” their patented seeds. Most lawsuits have been settled out of court with the farmers signing confidentiality agreements to not discuss what has happened to them.

New Mexico is a sanctuary for seeds that have survived thousands of years. Long known for independence and self-reliance, many of NM’s farmers and ranchers continue to grow crops and raise livestock to feed their families. Various agricultural groups, consumer advocates, farmers and ranchers created the Save NM Seeds Coalition to help protect farmers from unintentional GE contamination. This resulted in efforts to pass the Farmer Protection Act in 2009 and 2010.

History of The Farmer Protection Act in New Mexico
In 2008, Senator Bernadette Sanchez introduced a bill (SB60) in the state legislature for the NM Chile Association (NMCA) seeking funding to support the production of GE chile. The NMCA contends that the industry has been hit hard by cheaper imports attributed to higher labor costs in the US. Yet, many of its members import chile from Mexico, Peru and China.

In 2009, the Farmer Protection Act was introduced by Senator Cisco McSorely and co-sponsored by Senators Peter Wirth, Carlos Cisneros and Richard Martinez. It was sent to the Conservation Committee and scheduled six times before it was heard. The Chairperson was Sen. Bernadette Sanchez. The Act was tabled. Senators Richard Martinez and Stephen Fischmann voted in favor of the Act.

In 2010, the bill was introduced in the Interim Committee for Water and Natural Resources and carried by Rep. Paul Bandy (R), a rancher from Farmington. A political skirmish delayed the further introduction of the Act, which had the support of Governor Bill Richardson. After it was introduced by Senator John Pinto and carried by Senator Eric Griego, the Act was passed by the Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee. Senators McSorely, Tim Jennings, Lynda Lovejoy and John Pinto voted in favor. It was then heard in Judiciary and tabled due to a technicality. Senators John Ryan, McSorely and Richard Martinez voted in favor. The bill was then sent to the Conservation Committee, again with Chairperson Senator Bernadette Sanchez. The bill was tabled, with Senator Richard Martinez and Stephen Fischmann voting in favor.

In 2011, Rep. Paul Bandy has committed to carrying the bill in the House. It is uncertain who will carry it in the Senate.

What is The NM Farmer Protection Act?
The FPA is not an anti-GMO or anti-GE; nor does it preclude anyone from planting GE seeds. The 2010 FPA bill would have protected a farmer who has not entered into a GE seed contract from being sued for unintentional contamination. A farmer would not be liable for unintentional contamination from genetically engineered plants as a result of natural reproduction, cross-pollinations, seed mixing, or other commingling.

Secondly, the bill would have made it so the seed manufacturer (owner of the GE seeds patent) could only enter a farmer’s land to take samples of his crop, if they requested permission in writing, and the farmer provided written permission.

Finally, the FPA names NM as the venue for disputes relating to or arising out of the use of GE plants in NM. It also states that a seed contract authorizing the use of a GE plant in NM is governed by NM.

[SIDEBAR:]

The Save NM Seeds Coalition recommends:

• Before purchasing seeds, make sure you read the contracts and you understand what you are signing.

• Purchase as much food locally as you can. Get to know your farmers and ranchers, and ask what products they use on their land or what they feed their livestock.

• Receive updates on upcoming legislative efforts and educational events at www.savenmseeds.org. The coalition was created to represent citizens, including nonprofits, farmers, ranchers and consumer advocates in support of the bill. For more information, contact: info@savenmseeds.org.

[Related Article:]

Cuatro Puertas and the Arid Crop Seed Cache
Cuatro Puertas (CP) is a statewide community development corporation based in Albuquerque that was founded in 2000. In 2002, CP established the Arid Crop Seed Cache to rescue and reintroduce native heirloom crops. In 2007, CP inherited the Ghost Ranch seed bank, which includes several rare drought tolerant varieties, and could be crucial to the survival of some of NM’s unique biodiversity, history and culture.

CP is seeking to insure that these indigenous food crops can once again attain a place at our tables. By working directly with farmers, farmers’ markets, Pueblos and other local agriculture groups, CP is working to revive these crops while helping rebuild and strengthen rural traditional communities.

The CP project is a response to the predominant practice of monoculture farming, which, if continued, may contribute to worldwide food insecurity. In traditional agriculture, land races grown by native farmers preserved crop diversity. These land races consisted of genetically varied, open-pollinated crops that were grown generation after generation in the same area. As a result, the species adapted to the particular climate and environment. Although not always as productive as modern agricultural crops, these traditional crops survived year after year. In monoculture farming, where every farm grows the same crops, the plants are highly susceptible to disease. An increasingly important factor is the advent of genetically engineered crops that may cross-pollinate with other plants, further diluting the traditional gene pool, or in some cases destroy the traditional crops altogether.

Cuatro Puertas offers technical assistance in seed development and breeding, and seed saving workshops. Food tastings are conducted at farmers’ markets in the summer where communities can sample some of the reintroduced crops. For more information, email: acsc.cp@gmail.com.