September, 7, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- James Tressler,
The Times-Standard, Eureka, CA: It sailed easily
onto the November ballot -- and seemed to have relatively
But as if suddenly attacked by a swarm of locusts,
a proposed measure banning genetically modified crops
in Humboldt County has fallen on hard times.
First the Humboldt County Democratic Party last month
held off on supporting Measure M after a leading Humboldt
State University professor found errors in some of the
scientific language of the measure.
Then this past week District Attorney Paul Gallegos
attacked the teeth of the measure as unconstitutional
and said that it could be thrown out by the courts if
ever challenged. Gallegos even reportedly called on
the measure's backers to abandon their support.
Gallegos pointed to a clause in the proposed ordinance,
which voters will decide on Nov. 2, that allows the
county agricultural commissioner to impose jail sentences
on anyone caught growing or producing genetically modified
crops should the ban go into effect. The measure also
calls on the agricultural commissioner to impose fines
on would-be violators.
Such punishment measures could be in conflict with
the U.S. and state constitutions, which leave the power
to jail people exclusively with the court system.
"There is no due process rights connected with
the ordinance's means of imprisonment, and that, in
my eyes, is unconstitutional," the district attorney
was quoted as saying in a news report earlier this week.
Gallegos could not be reached for further comment in
time for this story, but his counterpart, Public Defender
James Steinberg said he's inclined to agree with Gallegos'
"I haven't read the measure, but it's obvious
that an agricultural inspector can't do that (jail people),"
However, Steinberg said such initiatives often have
what is called a "saving clause" written into
the language of the ballot measure that says if parts
of the law are stricken by the courts the remainder
of the law will stand. That could mean that genetically
modified crops would still be illegal in the county,
even if courts find the enforcement tools unlawful.
But the ordinance, which can be viewed at the county
Elections Office website ( www.co.humboldt.ca.us/elections),
has no such disclaimer -- which could throw the entire
ordinance in jeopardy.
"Without the severability clause, they do have
problems -- fortunately they're not my problems,"
said County Elections Manager Lindsey McWilliams.
The elections manager added, "It's on the ballot
and it's staying there."
Earlier this year, county Agricultural Commissioner
John Falkenstrom, who has since retired, didn't take
a position on the measure -- but he did indicate he
saw problems enforcing such a ban. He also said he predicted
such a ban could face court challenges.
The recent controversy has reportedly thrown the measure's
authors, the Humboldt Green Genes -- a coalition of
environmentalists and organic farmers -- into confusion
over whether or not to keep supporting the ordinance.
Martha Devine, co-chairwoman of the Green Genes, told
the Times-Standard that the group is in the process
of deciding what to do next. That decision could be
announced at a press conference the group may hold early
next week, Devine said.
The Green Genes are trying to follow in the footsteps
of Mendocino County, which in March became the first
county in the nation to pass a ban on genetically modified
crops. Supporters of such bans argue the nation's food
supply must be protected from genetically altered foods,
in part because they argue the long-term health risks
of such altered foods aren't yet known.
In July, the Green Genes easily surpassed the roughly
4,300 valid signatures to qualify the measure for November.
Locally, no groups have formally opposed the measure.
The Humboldt County Farm Bureau has remained neutral,
while the North Coast Growers' Association supports