Brooklin, ME Votes to be GMO-Free Zone

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Brooklin, ME, US

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Type: Resolution

Status: Adopted on 4/2/05

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On April 2, 2005, Brooklin became the first Maine town to address genetic engineering at a town meeting when voters passed the following warrant article: “Shall the town vote to voluntarily protect its agriculture and marine economies, environment and private property from irreversible Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) contamination by declaring Brooklin a GMO-free zone?”

Rob Fish of GE Free Maine says that this is the 98th resolution opposing genetic engineering to be passed in New England; the first to declare a voluntary moratorium on planting GMOs; and the first of any kind on the GMO issue by a municipality in Maine. The article was developed by local residents who later sought assistance from GE Free Maine.

According to Brooklin resident Marilyn Anderson, who, with Olenka Folda, Barbara Graves and Chip Angell, presented the petition with the required number of voter signatures, this is not a town ordinance, but a declaration of a position about preserving the environment, human health and food by resisting irreversible GMO contamination. The article will not restrict businesses from selling, serving or marketing GMO products and will not restrict laboratory research.

GE Free Maine is working with residents in Maine municipalities to bring the question of how to deal with GE crops to town meetings. According to Meg Gilmartin, cofounder of GE Free Maine, “Towns have a responsibility to protect the rights of farmers and landowners who choose not to grow [GE crops] on their land. Town meeting is the purest of our democratic institutions, a place where the issue can be decided face-to-face by local residents without the interference of paid lobbyists.”

GE Free Maine stayed away from the Brooklin town meeting at the request of local residents, who wanted to discuss the issue on their own. The vote did attract outside opponents, however. Doug Johnson, a professional lobbyist for the biotech industry and a partner in biotechnology public relations firm GreenTree Communication, attended the meeting and sought to speak. Residents objected to his outside interference. Brooklin resident John Bradford, a former Republican legislator from Massachusetts, moved that Johnson be given the floor, but the town voted down the motion. Several voters stated, “We are educated and intelligent people — we don’t need slick, highly paid corporate lobbyists coming in here trying to tell us what to do.”

Two other GE-related ordinances considered this spring, in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, were submitted by MOFGA’s York County chapter representative Christine Baker. Although the Kennebunk petition contained nearly 600 signatures— about 150 more than needed—selectmen rejected the ordinance after getting a written report from the Maine Department of Agriculture saying that such a moratorium would violate Maine’s Right To Farm Law. Kennebunkport selectmen voted to consider the issue again at its April 14 meeting, then, at that meeting, tabled the issue until fall.

The petition in Brooklin differed from those in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. Brooklin asked for a resolution/ declaration of the desire of the community be a GE Free Zone; the others would have made growing GE crops illegal.

The Department of Agriculture claims that using GE crops constitutes Best Management Practices, so towns cannot impose a moratorium on planting them. Ned Porter, Maine’s deputy agriculture commissioner, said, “GE varieties have been approved [by the FDA] for general release and, as such, are no different than hybrid varieties.”

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association believes that towns should be free to enact bans or resolutions if they want, but this is not a focus of MOFGA’s efforts and resources. The board of directors of MOFGA, which has been working with GE Free Maine on a case-by-case basis, strongly objected to the letter from the Department of Agriculture suggesting that local bans might be barred by the Right to Farm law. This letter was wrong and misguided, MOFGA believes. Its board has authorized executive director Russell Libby to ask the Governor for a meeting to discuss the agriculture department’s position on Kennebunk and the Right to Farm law.