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Governor’s office fails to respond to biopharm moratorium request

DENVER – The Governor’s office failed to respond to a request by approximately 40 agricultural, rural, and environmental organizations seeking an immediate moratorium on the introduction of biopharmaceutical crops into Colorado. The groups do not believe that these crops have been proven safe for open-air planting, and demand that a public process be established to thoroughly evaluate the risks before the crops are introduced into the environment.

Representatives from some of the groups gathered at the steps of the State Capitol today to discuss their concerns over last week’s application by Meristem Therapeutics to grow biopharmaceutical corn in Phillips County this year.

“Our groups have been watching this issue very closely,” said Peter Crowell a spokesperson for Western Colorado Congress (WCC). “We were given the impression that the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) did not expect to receive applications to grow biopharmaceutical crops in Colorado until next year, and that the public would be given an opportunity to comment on the CDA’s proposal for reviewing these applications. We see the possible approval of the Meristem application as improper until this process has occurred.” The groups are calling for a moratorium until standard operating procedures are established for regulating biopharm crops. Standards must include a comprehensive system of biological and physical containment, production and processing system segregation, identity preservation, monitoring and auditing during field tests and commercialization, waste management and disposal, accident detection, response and reclamation. The public and all stakeholders, including both conventional and organic farmers, consumers, food processors, environmentalists, and other state agencies, must have a voice in establishing these procedures, contend the groups.

Incidents of past contamination have heightened the concerns of some Colorado growers towards this technology, and current requirements for planting biopharm crops do not provide added comfort.

“My biggest concern is the lack of clarity of who will be held liable if something goes wrong,” said Doug Wiley, an organic vegetable producer, from Boone, Colo. “If there is even a perception that (biopharm) contamination has occurred in Colorado food crops, my markets are ruined.”

Jennifer Kemp, director of government relations for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) agreed. “Colorado farmers have spent generations developing their crops and fields to provide the public with safe, healthy food. We need to insure that these investments are protected.”

The groups contend that in a worst-case scenario, contamination by biopharm crop testing or production could significantly harm the market for Colorado crops. Genetically modified crops are unpopular and even illegal in most countries outside the United States. Within the United States, organic producers can lose their certification if contamination occurs.

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