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Montana considers seed regulation bill

HELENA, Mont. — A bill that would prohibit cities and counties in Montana from regulating seeds has passed through a Senate committee.

Senate Bill 155 would prohibit local governments from regulating "cultivation, harvesting, production, processing, registration, labeling, marketing, sale, storage, transportation, distribution, possession, notification of use, use and planting of agricultural seeds or vegetable seeds." The bill would not affect the zoning rights of local governments.

The Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation committee passed the bill on Feb. 14 by a 7-4 vote.

Representatives from the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, Montana Wool Growers Association, Montana Farmers Union, Montana Grain Growers Association, Montana Agricultural Business Association, Montana Stockgrowers Association, Montana Association of Counties and Montana Seed Trade Association at a Feb. 9 committee hearing testified in support of the bill, along with individual farmers from across the state.

The bill supporters said local regulation could lead to a patchwork of rules across the state.

"We don't believe that should lie with local government," said Levi Ostberg with Montana Farmers Union.

Gord Pearse, vice president of the Montana Seed Trade Association and general manager of Bruce Seed Farm in Townsend, said he doesn't know where customers are planting his products, and labeling could be difficult if local subdivisions began regulating seed.

While bill supporters did not discuss genetically modified crops, the lone opponent to speak, Adam Haight with the Northern Plains Resource Council, said wheat growers who are members of his organization worry about future GMO contamination of their crops, and local governments should be able to protect their economy.

Haight said he understands bill supporters' positions but believes SB 155 would "take an ax to local control."

Under questioning from the committee, supporters said there have been no instances of local subdivisions in Montana trying to regulate seeds, but other western states have seen such movements.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Lang, R-Malta, addressed the issue of genetic modification and said farmers should be able to make planting decisions for themselves, without input from cities and counties.

"Food from farmers and ranchers is what keeps America happy, and they've done this by changing of genetics and improving varieties," he said. "I just think Senate Bill 155 is a way we can provide consistency. Farmers and ranchers will know where they're going, what they plant, and research can go on. And we'll have more food produced on less acres in the United States."