One more California county bans genetically engineered organisms
Defeats of Butte and SLO initiatives will not deter future efforts in other counties

Posted November 19, 2004, Californians for GE-Free Agriculture: Residents in four California Counties - Butte, San Luis Obispo, Marin and Humboldt - went to the polls to vote on initiatives that ban the countywide planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops and other organisms. Marin County successfully passed an initiative with 62% support.

In Humboldt, 35% of voters supported the ban despite the fact that advocates of the measure withdrew their own support of the initiative several weeks ago after discovering legal problems with the language, indicating the likelihood that legislation will pass there in the future. In both San Luis Obispo and Butte, the measures failed to garner majority support, but gathered 41% and 40% of the vote despite being significantly outspent by agribusiness opponents such as the Farm Bureau.

In Mendocino County, the first county to pass a ban in March 2004, the biotechnology industry lobbying organization CropLife spent over $600,000 in a failed attempt to influence the election outcome, six times more than local supporters. The industry changed its tactics after Mendocino, and opposition in Butte and San Luis Obispo funneled through the Farm Bureau and other voices of corporate agribusiness, outspending local supporters 4 or 5 to 1.

Over the past year California has become an epicenter in the global struggle to stop the use of GE in agriculture. In March 2004, voters in Mendocino approved a measure to become the first county in the United States to ban GE crops. In August, the Trinity County Board of Supervisors voted to become the second. Many other counties, including Sonoma, Alameda, and Santa Barbara, are organizing to pass similar measures. Arcata is likely to become the first US city to ban GE crops when the city council votes at a November 3rd meeting.

"We are not the least bit deterred by the losses in San Luis Obispo, Butte and Humboldt counties," stated GE-Free Sonoma Campaign Director Dave Henson. Sonoma County is gathering signatures to qualify for a June 2005 ballot. "This relatively young grassroots movement of family farmers and citizens is just starting to gain momentum."

"Genetic engineering corporations have foisted these crops on farmers and consumers without sufficient testing, regulation, or the ability to prevent contamination" said Renata Brillinger, Director of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture. "This movement of county bans signals the need to pause in the headlong rush towards genetic engineering, and to engage in a statewide democratic debate about the future of this technology in California."

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