COMMENTARY

Mendocino County shouts a collective “no” to GMOs

By Susan Grelock

Editor’s NOTE:

Late this winter we received a letter from Susan Grelock, one of the supporters of a ballot measure that asked residents of a northern California county whether they wanted genetically engineered crops grown within their borders. When they answered a resounding “no” at the polls, we were so inspired by the monumental victory—even in the face of huge advertising dollars pumped in from pro-GMO industry lobbyists—that we invited Grelock to reflect on some of the implications of the vote.

We’ll continue running selected comments from our readers in this space regularly. So if you have something important to say related to sustainable agriculture, go ahead and express yourself!

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March 22, 2004: What does it mean when the citizens of a small, rural county can go up against agribusiness giants and win? It means a blast of confidence and momentum for the grassroots movement to keep GMOs out of the United States.

On March 3, Mendocino County residents voted 56.34 percent in favor of a groundbreaking measure to ban genetically modified plants from the county. CropLife America, a national lobbying group representing agribusiness giants, pumped over $600,000 into the county in the form of print ads and commercials promising the measure would bring higher taxes and invade privacy.

The well-run and highly motivated local campaign came out running with simple, non-stop grassroots actions—tabling at local grocery stores, newspaper ads, yard signs, and word of mouth. Measure H was on the lips of people all over town and eclipsed any talk of the presidential primaries. Many people, including myself, registered to vote for the first time. Local farmers came to the call. Mendocino has many small farmers and we produce the majority of the country’s wine grapes, many of which are organic. A number of wineries—including Barra, Ceago, Frey, and Fetzer—actively endorsed the campaign. And then our small, rural county attracted the national media and international visitors including Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser and British GMO researcher Luke Anderson. The coordinators of the local campaign knew that they were helping to spark a national reform.

“Mendocino County's victory means to me that when people learn the truth about what genetically engineered organisms really are, they tend to reject this novel technology because the often unintended consequences of GMOs can disrupt agricultural economies, said Els Cooperrider, owner of the certified organic Ukiah Brewing Company, who helped spearhead Measure H. “It also shows that it is the people who have the power, as long as they are willing to use it. Mendocino's H Campaign committee will continue to work to educate the public, and help other counties pass similar ordinances."

“Measure H means that our local food supply can victoriously remain organic, without fear of contamination from one’s neighbor’s GMO crop, said Libby Uhuru, the manager of Ukiah Co-op’s 100 percent organic produce department. Uruhu buys produce from a number of local organic farmers and was also active in the campaign. “Now, other counties are following our lead,” she said. “We are able to help share what we learned in the campaign and how we strategized.”

And a number of other counties are following suit, with similar measures being pursued in nine other California counties, including neighboring Humboldt, Sonoma, and Marin. The passage of similar bans in the neighboring counties would increase the area of this new “GE Free zone.” The victory of Measure H has sent a clear message to the biotech industry that it’ll take more than money and threats to keep us from defending our right to safe food.