Idaho farm groups help defeat ‘poisonous plants’ bill

A load of Japanese yew shrubs are shown at a nursery in southwestern Idaho Feb. 27. The state's nursery industry, with the support of other farm groups, helped defeat a bill that would have required all plants for sale in Idaho deemed potentially poisonous if eaten to include red warning labels with the word “poison” on them.

BOISE — Opposition from Idaho farm groups has helped beat back a bill that would have required conspicuous labeling on all plants for sale that could be poisonous to humans or animals.

Idaho’s nursery industry was particularly concerned about the bill, which would have required all such plants to contain a red label with the word “poison” on it.

Half the plants in a nursery can make you sick if eaten, said Seneca Hull, president of Franz Witte nursery in Boise. She represented the Idaho Nursery and Landscape Association in its opposition to Senate Bill 1272.

If the bill became law, “My nursery would be a sea of red signs,” she told fellow Food Producers of Idaho members. “The implications of it are absolutely ridiculous.”

The legislation defined poisonous as any plant “having the capacity to produce injury or illness to a human being or animal, domestic or wild, through ingestion of the plant.”

FPI, which includes most of the state’s main farm groups, voted unanimously to oppose the bill, which was printed in early February and sent to the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee.

The bill’s definition of poisonous was too broad and wasn’t reasonable, said Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, chairman of the Senate ag committee.

“The bill is dead. We’re not going to schedule it for a hearing,” he told Capital Press. “The definition was really bad. It was vastly over-inclusive.”

The legislation also called for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to determine what plants are poisonous and keep a current list of them.

Agriculture industry leaders were concerned about the implications of such a list for the state’s farm crops, some of which can be toxic to certain animals.

The bill also called for ISDA to conduct a public awareness and outreach campaign informing the public about the dangers that poisonous plants pose to humans and animals.

Hull said the genesis of the bill was a rash of deaths to deer, elk and antelope who were hungry following last year’s harsh winter and died after eating Japanese yew, a popular shrub which can be toxic if ingested.

The bill went too far but the nursery association is open to trying to find ways to help educate the public about the issue “in a way that is not so onerous to agriculture as a group,” she said.

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