March 31, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Greg Lucas, Sacramento Bee, 03/30/04:
Following Mendocino's lead, bans on genetically modified
crops are being considered in nearly one-fifth of California's
58 counties, supporters say.
Mendocino's Measure H -- approved March 2 by 57 percent
of voters despite a record-shattering $700,000 campaign
against it by the biotech industry -- is the first voter-sanctioned
ban on bioengineered crops in the country.
That success has fueled interest in similar initiatives
from Humboldt to Santa Barbara. Humboldt activists are
already gathering signatures. Similar efforts are beginning
in Sonoma and Butte counties. And campaigns are being
looked at for Marin, Contra Costa, Solano, San Luis
Obispo, Santa Barbara and Placer counties, sources say.
"Our strategy is to win a ban and do so by bringing
together a broad alliance of growers and businesses
and environmentalists and city governments and health
professionals," David Henson, executive director
of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, said of the
Makers of genetically altered crops like Monsanto and
Dupont have yet to settle on a strategy to stop the
local bans. "We're looking at a number of things
to remedy the situation," said Allan Noe, a spokesman
for Croplife America, a national trade association for
companies manufacturing genetically altered crops.
Noe said among the options being weighed are a court
challenge to Mendocino's ban, an attempt to pass state
legislation to prevent counties passing such bans or
persuade the federal government, which regulates biotech
products, to halt local bans.
Biotech crops are mainly of two varieties -- they're
engineered to either kill bugs or to withstand pesticides
like Monsanto's Roundup. The bulk of the market is altered
soy, canola, corn and cotton.
Manufacturers of the crops oppose local bans, arguing
that extensive federal regulation ensures the safety
of genetically altered foodstuffs. Use of such crops
also saves farmers money and helps the environment by
reducing the use of pesticides, the industry says.
But opponents contend the technology is too new to
be proven safe and that cross-pollination between gene-altered
crops and nearby organic crops could severely harm the
organic food industry.
One of the arguments used by supporters of Mendocino
County's measure was that certifying a product grown
in the county as being free from genetic engineering
would make it more salable, particularly in the Japanese
and European markets, which for the most part oppose
genetically altered foodstuffs.
Although no genetically altered crops are grown in
Mendocino County, Croplife and a comparable statewide
trade group contributed nearly all the money used to
try to defeat Mendocino's anti-genetic engineering Measure
H, which ultimately won with 57 percent of the more
than 27,000 votes cast.
Els Cooperrider, co-owner of the Ukiah Brewing Co.
and one of the leaders of the Measure H campaign, said
initiatives are under consideration for 11 counties,
based on her conversations with people who have called
her seeking advice. She declined to name the counties.
"The reason I'm not saying anything right now
is because they asked me not to. They're worried Monsanto
forces will come in and undo them before they get going,"
Cooperrider said. "But I know who they are and
I know they're working on it."
Other sources say activists are considering launching
initiatives in Marin, Contra Costa, Solano, San Luis
Obispo and Placer counties.
While Cooperrider isn't saying who is working on more
local bans, she and her campaign brain trust are exporting
their winning strategy. "We didn't run a top-down
organization," Cooperrider said. "There was
freedom for people to do what they thought was best
to bring votes in their communities."
A Butte County group -- Genetically Engineered Free
Butte County -- is also just beginning its efforts.
"We need 6,000 signatures by May 13," said
Mark Bracket, an Oroville construction worker backing
a ban because of his belief genetically modified organisms
Farthest along is Humboldt County's effort, championed
by the Humboldt Green Genes. Using the slogan, "We're
mad as cows and we're not going to take it any more,"
the group has collected more than 2,000 signatures of
the 4,500 needed by July 7 to place the measure on the
"I do see genetic modification as a direct threat
to organic farming. Cross-pollination happens. It's
a fact," said Angela Flynn, a Green Gene who does
piece work on area organic farms.
The first commercial genetically altered crops were
sold in 1996. Since then, their use has grown sharply.
In 1996, genetically engineered corn represented 4 percent
of the acres planted. Last year, it was 40 percent.
More than 70 percent of canola and cotton crops are
genetically engineered. For soy, it's more than 80 percent.
Although most use is concentrated in the Midwest and
the South, California's genetically altered crop count
is increasing. Biotech crops in California are mainly
cotton and corn. Their principal growing areas are the
Central and Imperial valleys.
In 1999, 2 percent of the cotton grown in California
was pesticide resistant. In 2003, that had grown to
29 percent. Insect-resistant corn is about 6 percent
of California's crop, according to Croplife America.