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Legislator Questions Biotech Agriculture Responsibility

Warnings about the pitfalls of corporate control of farming that previously fell on uninterested ears may soon be taken seriously, according to one state Senator.

Senator Paul Muegge, D-Tonkawa, expects the controversy will gain momentum and have a snowball effect with the recent findings that farmers planted a variety of Aventis' StarLink bioengineered corn that was not approved for human consumption. More than 1,300 acres of StarLink seeds were planted in Oklahoma fields this year.

"If you were told that your dinner table included food made from products that had not yet been deemed safe for people to consume, you wouldn't buy it. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the originators of bioengineered crops have been counting on - no one noticing until our food supply has been completely infiltrated with unapproved products," said Muegge. "I've argued for years that something like this would happen if the corporate giants didn't step up and make the proper decisions about profit versus the integrity of the agriculture industry. It sounds ludicrous that food considered unsuitable for human consumption would make it as far as your dinner table, but that is exactly what is happening now."

Consumers are not the only ones being deceived, according to Muegge. The farmers who grow corn with the seed developed by the biotech industry are being forced to put their trust in the biotech designed seed, and the StarLink situation has given many farmers an abrupt wake up call.

"The farmers of these crops simply cannot afford to take the risk when something like this happens. It jeopardizes their livelihood," said Muegge. "Leaders in this industry have to be held liable for occurrences like this, because the farmer has no choice but to trust them with the quality of seed stock they purchase. If the corporation says it can guarantee the integrity of its bag of seed, as StarLink did, they should be willing to take responsibility for their product. If they aren't willing to do that, then that indicates to me that something's not right with the system.

Labeling has been presented as a means to encourage biotech companies to take responsibility for disclosure on their products, but the companies don't choose to proceed with labeling. Senator Muegge sees this choice as a silent, strong-arm tactic of keeping consumers and farmers in the dark.

"Now we know why the biotech companies do not want labeling. When I asked the genetically modified organisms (GMO) representatives at four different conferences during the past 18 months why they were against labeling, all I got was the company's stock answer -- 'It would be too difficult for farmers to keep track of this grain.'"

"Yes, it would be difficult to keep track of, and that's why labeling will not work. So, instead they put on the blinders, hope to integrate and infiltrate the crop until no one can tell the difference, and then argue that since no one could differentiate the crops, what does it matter?"

Although the health issue certainly poses a concern for farmers and consumers, Muegge is focusing on the biotechnology industry's stance on the rising popularity of these engineered seeds. He contends the biotech industry has a strong foothold in the market already, but so far, has failed to show evidence of the conscience and integrity necessary to be considered responsible in farming circles.

"The problem is not necessarily what comes out of the laboratory in designer crops. The monster that corporations are creating will ultimately mean that farmers won't have a choice as to what they will grow and the consumers will get whatever is on the shelf at their local supermarket."

"Simply said, people just aren't aware of the implications of this issue," continued Muegge. "As more people learn the facts about genetically engineered products, I anticipate we will see and hear more protest from consumers who expect a higher sense of responsibility from the companies we trust with our agriculture products. "

Contact info
Senate Communications Division - (405) 521-5605