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.
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
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.