|BURLINGTON FREE PRESS, 4-06-05|
Senate passes modified-seed liability bill
By Ross Sneyd
The Associated Press
MONTPELIER -- A bill that would make seed manufacturers liable for
damages when genetically modified seeds drift into other crops won
final Senate approval Tuesday, but it faces strong opposition before it
can become law.
Despite a great deal of sometimes heated
backroom debate among senators, the bill passed by a 26-1 vote and was
sent to the House, which has not acted on the issue this session.
The heart of the controversy concerned farmers who do not choose to use
genetically altered seeds. The goal of advocates was to protect those
farmers from liability if such modified seeds ended up on the farmers'
property. Manufacturers of those seeds, under the bill, would be liable
for any damages the farmer suffered, such as an organic farm's not
being able to sell its crops as organic.
The issue that
especially generated opposition involved the concept of "strict
liability," which would mean seed manufacturers would be responsible
for damages their products caused even if the manufacturer was found
not to be at fault. For example, if whoever used the seed did not
follow the manufacturer's instructions on the label.
feel that we as a body are making a major error in supporting the
strict liability, an issue that has not caused one problem in Vermont,"
said Sen. Robert Starr, D-Essex/Orleans.
He said one company
had warned that it would stop doing business in the state if the bill
became law. "I would expect other companies to follow suit," he said.
"All the great work we've done last year and the year before ... will
kind of go by the wayside."
Others argued that the bill would help to give farmers a little clout against the strength of seed companies.
"This bill offers protection without threatening the use of genetically
engineered seeds in this state," said Sen. James Leddy, D-Chittenden.
Despite disputes among senators in the hallways, the bill ultimately
passed only with the opposition of Sen. Wendy Wilton, R-Rutland.
As the bill moves to the House, there is opposition from Agriculture
Secretary Steve Kerr, who has said he would urge the governor to veto