It began with a focus on accurate seed-container labels. But in July, as Assembly Bill 2470 neared signing, it took a spin for the worse, its critics now say.
The dangerous twist was the insertion of a paragraph by the bill’s author, assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield. The amendment was meant to tackle an invasive-plant policy proposed by the City of Encinitas. But the change worries opponents of genetically modified foods who recently lost the battle to have such foods labeled. If the state won’t do it, they figured, cities still might. The bill, which makes changes to existing California seed law, seems to threaten that goal.
Now, some who initially supported the bill (signed by governor Jerry Brown on August 25) fear it could thwart local control over any type of seed or plant, from genetically modified crops to marijuana. Sonoma and Mendocino Counties and others are reviewing the new law.
Laurie Winter, associate planner for the City of Encinitas, said in an email that the city recently learned about AB2470. There hasn’t been a need for interpretation — “and I don’t expect there to be since GMO is not a part of the Invasive Plant Policy.”
So, how did the policy get linked to genetically modified foods?
The paragraph Salas inserted in June states that a city, county, or district “shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance that regulates plants, crops, or seeds without the consent of the Secretary” of the Department of Food and Agriculture. The bill also “adds ‘corporation’ to the definition of ‘person’ within the California Seed Law.”
The Senate analysis of the bill discusses how the invasive-plant policy, once enacted by the City of Encinitas, will prohibit the use of specified invasive plants on city property or public rights-of-way. Permit restrictions will kick in on new projects, along with the city’s water-efficiency landscape regulations.
Nursery operators were reportedly concerned about being unable to sell plants prohibited by the city. The Encinitas invasive-plant policy won’t prohibit a nursery or similar retailer from selling plant species included on the invasive-species list; it will, however, bar their use in many areas, including easements, medians, golf course, trails, parks, and overlooks.
The argument against the city’s policy, according to the bill analysis, is that the state already has a model, called PlantRight, to help horticulturists phase out invasive plants. But the city considers the new policy necessary to curb the negative impacts invasive plants may have on its wetlands, beaches, and lagoons. It won’t apply to existing landscaping, but to landscaping on public lands or private landscaping proposed as part of a discretionary permit application. It exempts olive trees and fig trees from the list and makes other food-bearing trees and plants eligible for exemption.
Along with concerns about how invasive-plant lists and policies might affect their business, seed-industry groups like the American Seed Trade Association oppose mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. On November 13, the Department of Food and Agriculture released a statement saying the new law won’t affect the ability of local jurisdictions to regulate GMOs. But that hasn’t erased concerns that it will become harder to pass local restrictions on cultivating genetically modified plants.
In Sonoma County, the Sebastopol City Council was scheduled to debate a resolution today (November 18) that called on supervisors to enact an ordinance banning GMOs in the county, while the mayor of Santa Rosa has drafted a letter calling on supervisors to protect local authority over plants, seeds and crops.
The City of Encinitas is also taking no chances with the new seed-law amendment. They’ve decided to move forward sooner than planned, before it takes effect on January 1, 2015. Formal adoption of the Invasive Plant Policy is on the city council agenda for tomorrow, November 19, Winter says.