N.D. seeks to hold firms liable if biotech wheat pollen drifts

Monday, February 10, 2003

BISMARCK, N.D. -- A North Dakota lawmaker wants to hold seed manufacturers financially responsible if pollen from their biotech wheat drifts to neighboring organic fields.

The state Senate's Judiciary committee listened to witnesses last week during an initial hearing on state Sen. Bill Bowman's bill.

"I'm not saying you can or can't plant" biotech wheat, Bowman said. "But if you do, liability concerns have to be addressed."

Critics of the bill have denounced it as an obstacle to technology.

John Olson, a Bismarck attorney and lobbyist for St. Louis-based Monsanto Co., said Bowman's bill presumes that biotech wheat is harmful. The wheat must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Olson said.

"It bothers me that (the bill) suggests this is a contaminant in the food chain," Olson said.

Monsanto is developing a wheat variety that is resistant to the company's Roundup herbicide. The genetic changes, the company says, will allow a farmer to spray the herbicide without harming the wheat plants.

Monsanto has already rolled out biotech versions of corn, canola and soybeans that are in use in North Dakota.

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