August 2, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Charles Abbott, Reuters, 07/30/04:
North Dakotans will not vote this year on regulating
biotech wheat, a leader of the "Go Slow with GMO
Committee" said on Friday, shifting the election-year
debate over genetically modified crops to California.
Four California counties will vote on Nov. 2 whether
to ban planting of GMO seeds. Mendocino County, north
of San Francisco, voted in March to bar farmers from
growing biotech crops, the first local prohibition of
Activists have placed no-GMO measures on the fall ballot
in Marin, Humboldt and Butte counties in northern California
and San Luis Obispo County on the central coast.
As a leading rice grower, Butte County will be the
first major U.S. farming county to vote on the issue.
U.S. farmers have embraced GMO corn maize, soybeans
and cotton varieties for their higher yields and easier
control of weeds and insects. But some environmental
and consumer groups say the long-term safety of the
crops is not proven, so shoppers should have the chance
to buy non-GMO foods.
In North Dakota, the Go Slow committee warned that
biotech wheat could jeopardize farm income by driving
away customers in Europe and Japan. It wanted a state-wide
vote to create a law requiring state approval before
GMO wheat could be planted.
North Dakota is the top U.S. grower of durum and hard
red spring wheat and often challenges Kansas as the
No. 1 wheat state.
"Right now, we do not expect to file" for
a spot on the general election ballot, said Go Slow
committee Chairman Karl Limvere, leaving open the the
possibility of getting on a later ballot. It has a year
to gather the 12,844 signatures needed to qualify.
There was less urgency, Limvere said, with the May
10 decision by biotech pioneer Monsanto Co. to shelve
introduction of herbicide-tolerant GMO wheat. "The
long-term issue is the same," he said -- creating
a mechanism to protect the interests of farmers.
The four no-GMO referenda in California are a step
toward making the state a GMO-free zone, say leaders
of the BioDemocracy Alliance, created by GMO opponents
and the Organic Consumers Association to help win the
In Butte County, the local Farm Bureau, with 2,400
members, opposes the no-GMO measure. The group says
it would take away a farmer's freedom to choose crops.
The California Farm Bureau Federation supports biotechnology.
As in Mendocino County, no GMO crops are grown in the
four counties. Butte County is home to a rice research
station, however. Some growers say the wording of the
no-GMO proposal is ambiguous enough to potentially block
some rice research.
Two national trade groups, Croplife American and Biotechnology
Industry Organization, were steering clear of the referenda.
Anti-GMO activists regularly assail big-company "biotech
"In areas that have farmers, they are getting
engaged," said Lisa Dry, a spokeswoman for BIO.
California is the top U.S. agricultural state, growing
$26 billion of farm goods a year. It is known for its
wines, fruits, vegetables, horticulture and livestock,
as well as growing row crops like rice and cotton.