December 31, 2003 (CropChoice news) The Press Democrat:
Saying the courts should "tread lightly,"
a Mendocino County judge Tuesday let stand ballot language
that argues for a local initiative to ban genetically
Superior Court Judge Leonard LaCasse said he would
not block election officials from printing the March
2 primary ballot, which contained language Measure H
critics had claimed was false and misleading.
While the specific statements may not "constitute
the whole truth, they are not so completely wrong to
constitute a falsehood to voters," said LaCasse.
He also recognized the deeply divergent viewpoints
in the debate over genetic engineering, reflected in
the local ballot measure that has attracted national
"It is instructive that the argument against this
ballot proposal contains language that is at least equally
provocative to the language in favor of the measure,"
The measure would make Mendocino County the first in
the nation to ban cultivation of genetically modified
organisms, or GMOs.
Supporters, who include 150 organic farmers and wine-grape
growers, contend the ban is needed to protect Mendocino
County's growing stature as a producer of certified
organic agricultural products. They fear genetically
modified organisms could contaminate local organically
The measure has run into opposition from other agricultural
interests, including local Farm Bureau President Peter
Bradford, and the California Plant Health Association,
a statewide lobbying group representing biotech companies.
Monsanto Corp., which is a member of the association,
last year spent about $1.5 million to help defeat an
Oregon ballot measure that would have forced labeling
of genetically modified foods. The Mendocino measure
does not attempt to impose a labeling requirement.
The Sacramento law firm of Olson, Hagel & Fishburn
filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of the plant association,
seeking to have three specific statements in the ballot
argument in support of Measure H stricken from the March
One statement contended that "organic farms and
wineries will lose organic certification" if their
crops become contaminated by modified organisms.
The other two statements claimed that "GMO polluted
wine" would be unmarketable in Europe and Japan
and that "GMOs will irreversibly contaminate native
plants and trees."
LaCasse noted that voters will have an opportunity
to ponder those claims, as well as those by Measure
Critics of the measure say in their ballot argument
that it could result in "cutting of vital services,
raising taxes, increasing government intrusion in the
private life" and "uses fear instead of science
and could deny citizens future lifesaving techniques."
LaCasse said that "none of these statements are
demonstrably false, but they are replete with hyperbole
and as such are calculated to invite public debate and
"The court finds that this is good because it
reflects the values of the democratic society to the
extent that it encourages interest and participation
and the free exchange of ideas," he said.
Sara Miller, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento-based
plant association, said Tuesday that her organization
was disappointed with the ruling. "But we intend
to work even harder to make sure Mendocino voters know
exactly what Measure H means," she said.
Attorney Susan Jordan, representing Measure H supporters,
called LaCasse's ruling a "victory for freedom
of speech." She described the court ruling as the
"first victory in what promises to be a long and
hard-fought war against outside corporate interests."