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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Testimony in Opposition L.D. 1219, An Act To Establish a Moratorium on Genetically Engineered Plants

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April 7, 2003

Good afternoon, Senator Bryant, Representative McKee and members of the Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry Committee, my name is Cheryl Timberlake. I am a resident of Livermore and serve as the Executive Director of the Biotechnology Association of Maine (BAM). BAM is a trade organization representing Maine's 80 plus biotechnology companies, our affiliated educational institutions, and the not for profit research organizations. I am here to testify in opposition to LD 1219, a proposed ban on the planting and cultivation for commercial crop production of plants and seeds that are improved through biotechnology.

Our members conduct research and development in the areas of human and animal therapeutics, agricultural and industrial products and processes to improve quality of life and the environment. We oppose LD 1219. We believe choice is critical for Maine businesses ability to compete, especially for Maine farmers who are already disadvantaged due to our short growing season, high energy and transportation costs as well as the negative impacts Mother Nature may bestow.

Attached to my testimony is an Information Brochure to highlight the key facts about Biotechnology. This piece, "Biotechnology For Life: a Consumers Guide to the Facts and Benefits of Biotechnology" reinforces our believe that Maine farmers should have the right to choose to grow the most advanced and environmentally friendly crop varieties.

Maine's farmers have a right to choose.
Crops improved through biotechnology offer farmers many benefits including: improved insect and weed control; improved crop yields and seed/feed quality; reduced labor and pesticide costs; and increased profitability and competitiveness. Farmers nationwide have rapidly embraced the new, improved choices provided through biotechnology. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that 38% of all corn, 70% of cotton, and 80% of soybeans grown in the U.S. this year will be biotech-improved varieties.

The first wave of plant biotechnology products consisted of varieties improved for agronomic or "input" traits such as insect resistance or herbicide tolerance. These have economic and stewardship benefits for farmers and the environment. Agricultural biotechnology enables farmers to reduce pesticide use, soil erosion, maximize efficient land use, and reduce mycotoxins (toxic compounds produced by fungi) in grains. According to the National Center for Food & Agricultural Policy, herbicide tolerant strawberries-for example-would reduce the need for herbicide applications, hand weeding, and cultivation and save farmers approximately $240/acre. As the technology develops still further, researcher will also be able to introduce quality or "output" traits into plants resulting in foods with higher nutritional quality and other health benefits for consumers such as increased anti-oxidants to help prevent cancer and degenerative diseases.

Biotech crops are highly regulated and proven safe.
The biotechnology industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in this country. Crops and foods improved through biotechnology are subject to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversight. These agencies review these crops for human and animal safety, as well as environmental safety. Working within this federal coordinated framework of the USDA, EPA and FDA, companies and research entities spend two to ten years and $4-8 million dollars-on average-to get a new biotech product through the full spectrum of regulatory testing and evaluation necessary for approval. I am delighted to report that this process is working well. In fact, biotech crops and foods are proven to be as safe as, if not safer than, conventionally produced counterparts.

Maine is perceived as a progressive leader and supporter of research and development.
In fact, you probably know the State of Maine Economic Development Strategy includes biotechnology as one of the key sectors targeted for development in the state. The enactment of LD 1219 is a direct affront to that effort.

Several years ago, the Maine Legislature took a major step and made a substantial investment in science and technology by committing funds to support research. That investment has been very successful. Today, Maine ranks in the top ten in the nation for the biotechnology industry. Along with our internationally renowned research centers, such as the Foundation for Blood Research, and the Jackson Laboratory, we now have over 80 biotechnology companies in Maine. They are located throughout the state. They produce over 650 different products - from antigens and antibodies, to human and veterinary diagnostic kits, to pharmaceuticals.

Maine's successful growth in the biotechnology industry can be attributed to two key factors. The first element is the presence of talented researchers and workers who live in Maine and want to stay in Maine. The second element is the existence of an integrated and supportive research and development climate, thanks in part, to state supported organizations like the Maine Technology Institute, the Applied Technology Development Centers, the Center for Innovation in Biotechnology and our academic partners: The University of Maine and the Maine Community/Technical Colleges.

The good news is that Maine's biotech industry has grown dramatically over the past few years. The bad news is that while the potential rapid growth of the biotech industry is substantial, such growth will be severely limited if the business climate in Maine is restricted. With all this effort to secure the State's position as a technology leader, legislation to ban a segment of innovative research is incomprehensible. By arbitrarily creating a moratorium on agricultural biotechnology, this State Maine sends a negative message to the rest of the biotechnology industry, and to the financial community supporting it, that it does not want biotechnology in Maine.

Conclusion
We believe that preserving a choice for Maine farmers is essential. We also believe a moratorium would damage the state's reputation as a champion of research and development. We caution legislation that sacrifices sound science for a short-term marketing campaign. This bill would deny Maine's farmers the option to leverage the advantages that biotechnology offers, putting them at a competitive disadvantage compared to farmers in other states.

We hope you will recognize the negative implications the bill will have on our emerging biotech industry. At a time when Maine is moving forward with a commitment to the biotech industry, we urge you to reconsider the need for unnecessary business regulations. Thank you.

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