"...possibly the most inspiring year on record as far as local activism on genetic engineering issues in the US is concerned." - Luke Anderson
Here's Luke Anderson's REVIEW OF THE YEAR from the States, focusing particularly on grassroots actions in California and Hawaii that Luke has experienced at first hand.
Prior to living in the US, Luke was a founding member of the Totnes Genetix Group (ToGG). He is also the author of 'Genetic Engineering, Food and our Environment' (published by Green Books Ltd, 1999 ISBN: 1-870098-78-1)
For others in the GM Watch REVIEW OF THE YEAR SERIES see: http://www.gmwatch.org/archive.asp
2004 report - Grassroots Actions in California and Hawaii
by Luke Anderson
DO IT YOURSELF
OPPOSING BIO 2004
RECLAIM THE COMMONS
MORE GMO BANS
APPENDIX I: Hawaii Press Release
APPENDIX II: Articles About Mendocino Initiative.
APPENDIX III: Media Reports On Other GMO Bans
For reasons that I'm guessing may be obvious to the readers of GM Watch, 2004 has been an extremely upsetting year for supporters of the environment, peace and social justice in the US. Partly in response to the difficulty in shifting the political landscape on a national level, people are increasingly turning to ways in which they can effect change in their communities. And in this respect, it has been possibly the most inspiring year on record as far as local activism on genetic engineering issues in the US is concerned.
In Vermont, town-to-town educational efforts led to 79 towns passing resolutions against GMOs. This grassroots organising then provided the political base for Vermont to pass a groundbreaking seed-labelling bill at the state level, the first of its kind in the US. There has also been progress on a state bill holding biotech corporations liable for unintended contamination of conventional or organic crops by genetically engineered plant materials.
In California, the political space really opened up for us in March, when voters in Mendocino county passed the first law in the US to ban GMO release into the environment. Most people around the world understandably seem to have the impression that people in the US must be very supportive of genetic engineering, given its prevalence here and the US government ramming it down everyone's throats. But this was the first time anyone in the US had the chance to vote on a county law banning the planting of GMO's, and we won.
Despite more than $600,000 pumped into the county by the biotech industry in a massive disinformation campaign, (which worked out at $55 for every 'no' vote) the new GMO law was supported by 56.5% of the voters.
"We're the first county in the US to prohibit the growing of genetically engineered crops and animals," said Els Cooperrider, a retired medical and local business owner who helped to spearhead the initiative, "but we won't be the last."
No amount of money can replace the love and commitment of people who care passionately about the place they live," said Doug Mosel, spokesperson for the Mendocino campaign. "This is a turning point in the corporate domination of the food system and a reclaiming of responsibility for agriculture at a local level."
Supporters of the initiative ranged from the local sheriff to the West Coast's largest commercial fishing association, representing 26 commercial fishing and port associations from San Diego to Alaska. As it has done in other countries, the GMO issue broke across many of the traditional political boundaries that often remain fairly closed in other environmental or social debates. A fair number of republican voters in the county apparently preferred to align with a group that included people they would normally scorn as 'radicals, hippies and environmentalists' than to identify with the big corporations. This is very troubling to the biotech industry, and the press coverage after Mendocino voters approved the GMO ban portrayed dumbfounded industry executives.
"We don't want to see this pick up any steam," said Allen Noe, spokesperson for CropLife America. "We have to do something. With all the political subdivisions in the country, if every county started regulating what we do, the industry would grind to a
halt." The industry is well aware that the Mendocino victory could have a domino effect across the country. "How to stop that is unclear", said Noe.
DO IT YOURSELF
Here is a very simplified version of the process used to ban GMO release in a county in California:
1. People write a proposed law (e.g. saying that it will be illegal to grow or plant GMOs)
2. Thousands of signatures then need to be gathered (about 10% of the number of voters in the county) to show that there is enough support to put this initiative to the vote.
3. Residents of the county then have the opportunity to vote on whether or not the support this initiative and pass it as a county law. (The vote usually happens the next time voters in the county go to the polls for a local, state or national election)
OPPOSING BIO 2004
In June 2004, at the same time as the G8 leaders were meeting under heavily guarded conditions in Georgia, biotech corporations met in San Francisco for their largest meeting ever, attended by over 17,000 industry executives. In response to these two meetings, a week-long series of educational events and protests were organised in San Francisco called 'Reclaim the Commons'. These educational events and protests focused on genetic engineering and life patents in the context of the 'commons' - all that which we inherit freely and hold in trust for future generations which is being stolen from us, polluted and privatised.
These events built on the momentum generated by demonstrations organised in California last year, in Sacramento in June 2003. There, the US Department of Agriculture, the Agency for International Development, and the State Department had invited government ministers and transnational corporate reps from around the world in an attempt to gather support for the US government's vision for global agricultural development in advance of the fated WTO ministerial in Cancun.
At these protests in 2003, we framed genetic engineering as a justice issue, focusing on the relationships between GMOs, the WTO and corporate globalisation, and on US agricultural policy as a weapon of empire building. This approach, reflected in our media work and in our outreach and organising, meant that we were able to inspire participation from members of the peace movement and social justice groups who were saying for the first time that they were beginning to get what genetic engineering was all about. These connections were developed still further as we organised the 'Reclaim the Commons' mobilisation in June 2004.
The educational events at Reclaim the Commons were attended by over a thousand people and included workshops on genetic engineering and biological weapons, genetic engineering in food and farming, biotech barriers to medical justice, resistance and alternatives to genetic engineering and corporate control, nanotechnology, racial justice and human genetic engineering. (see reclaimthecommons.net, biodev.org and biotechimc.org)
RECLAIM THE COMMONS
The Commons are all that is needed to support life on earth, such as water, air, land, the forests and the oceans. The Commons also include our genes, our food sources, wildlife and ecosystems. And the Commons include everthing that is needed to sustain vibrant cultures: our multicultural heritages, public and political spaces, education, information and the means to disseminate it, the air waves, healthcare and other essential human services. The Commons are everything that we inherit jointly and freely, and hold in trust for future generations.
We are currently witnessing a massive theft of the global Commons by those who would seek profit for the few at the expense of us all. Whether it is the privatisation of water, the patenting of genes and seeds, or the corporate takeover of public and political space, we oppose this commodification of life wholeheartedly and choose to envision a better world. We choose a world that is truly democratic, just, and sustainable; a world in which every person's basic needs are met, wealth is equitably distributed, and racial, economic and gender justice prevail. A world where indigenous cultures are cherished and restitution is made to those that have been exploited. We work towards a society based on thriving, regional economies that are ecologically and economically sustainable, in which the Commons are returned to public stewardship.
We call for an end to all privatization and destruction of the Commons, an end to the use of biotechnology to further concentrate ownership and control over food sources and health services, and to develop new weapons of war. And an end to corporate control at all levels of government - from national and international military & trade policies to the domestic agenda that institutionalizes racism, sexism and poverty.
We call for true democracy, for all people to have a voice in the decisions that affect them, for complete transparency in all decision-making processes, and for every person's human rights to be honored and protected.
We, invite all those who value the quality of their own lives and those of future generations to join us in reclaiming the Commons for the benefit of all.
MORE GMO BANS
By the end of the summer, there were four more counties in California who had gathered enough signatures to qualify for a vote on a GMO ban for the November elections, and one more county, Trinity, which had already joined Mendocino in passing an initiative banning GMO crops and animals.
The industry had studied its PR failure in Mendocino County, and put together a far more sophisticated campaign to try to squash this burgeoning movement towards a GMO free California. They realised in the Mendocino campaign that people didn't like the look of corporations based thousands of miles away pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into opposition to local measures. So in the campaigns for the november elections the money was funnelled through local pro-industrial pro-GMO farm groups, and the local campaginers were made to look like the outsiders and the local farm communities the ones who were opposed to the GMO free zones. This was added to by a barrage of advertising on billboards, radio, newspapers and TV, as well as the support of editorial boards of local corporate newspapers. This was added to by systematic attacks from California University professors with their careers tied up in genetic engineering. All in all this was a lot for local groups with limited resources to deal with.
But this is an issue that people feel very affected by, and we were able to do pretty well. We won with 61% of the vote in Marin County, and managed to get about 40% of the vote in Butte and San Luis Obispo, which we were happy with considering the opposition. Humboldt county had a lot of support for a GMO ban, but the local group had to withdraw it's campaign due to problems with the language they used for the proposed measure, and plan to reintroduce a new one in the future. However, one of the main towns in Humboldt county, Arcata, went ahead and introduced a local ban covering the town limits.
So now what that means is that we have three counties in northern california which are now GMO free zones, Mendocino, Trinity and Marin, and several headed in this direction in 2005/3006. It is very likely that the industry will make every effort to introduce a bill or legal challenge to undermine these efforts, but it's not going to be entirely straightforward for them to do so.
Hawaii has the highest concentration of experimental testing of GMOs anywhere on the planet.
In one visit in February 2004 to a seed company planting experimental GMO corn, I asked the corporate executive showing me around what he did with the 'barrier' corn. (This is the corn planted around the edges of the experimental genetically engineered corn which is supposed to pick up most of the pollen coming from the experimental corn as a 'barrier' to stop genetic pollution. Hmm) He told me that this barrier corn was all destroyed, but refused to say how. The following day I met with some of the local farm workers who told me that they actually receive it as a bonus to take home and feed their families.
Grassroots opposition to genetic engineering has been building steadily over the last 2 year and there are now several groups very active across the islands. These groups have been developing strategies to raise awareness and starting to develop the political momentum needed to move towards a GMO free Hawaii.
The first major victory in 2004 was a resolution against GM coffee passed by the Hawaii coffee association. This was followed later in the year by a resolution by Maui Land and Pine, one of the biggest Ag corporations on the islands.
The groups in GMO-free Hawaii also released a study of contamination from the world's first commercially planted genetically engineered tree, the papaya. There has been widespread contamination of organic farms, wild lands and household gardens by the genetically engineered papaya in Hawaii, and the tests conducted by these groups showed the extent of this, and that even the supposedly non-GMO seed sold by the University of Hawaii had low levels of contamination.
Also being investigated are contamination and human health problems coming from field experiments such as the pharmaceutical crops which have been planted all over the islands. There has been no public right to know about the location of these experiments, but in August a lawsuit was won against the USDA ordering the USDA to reveal the location of these test sites.
APPENDIX 1: HAWAII - NEWS RELEASE
News Release: 10/9/2004
New Research Reveals Widespread GMO Contamination and Threats to Local Agriculture From the World's First Commercially Planted Genetically Engineered Tree
Outraged Farmers, Consumers and Backyard Papaya Growers Return Contaminated Papayas to the University of Hawaii in Crop Dump
Hilo, Hawaii -- Independent laboratory testing results released today reveal widespread contamination from the world's first commercially planted genetically engineered tree, the papaya, on Oahu, the Big Island, and Kauai. Contamination was also found in the stock of non-genetically engineered seeds being sold commercially by the University of Hawaii.
Farmers, health professionals, concerned citizens, and University of Hawaii scientists joined GMO-Free Hawaii in announcing the shocking results of their research at the University of Hawaii, which created and released the GMO papaya. Dozens of outraged farmers, consumers and backyard growers brought their contaminated papayas back to the university to underscore their demand that UH provide a plan for cleaning up papaya contamination. The campaign also called for liability protection for local growers and the prevention of GMO contamination of other Hawaiian commodity crops.
All samples were tested by Genetic ID, one of the world's leading scientific laboratories for genetic contamination testing. Composite samples from the Big Island and Oahu both revealed GMO contamination. Nearly 20,000 papaya seeds from across the Big Island, 80% of which came from organic farms and the rest from backyard gardens or wild trees, showed a contamination level of 50%. Oahu's composite of papayas, primarily from organic farms, showed contamination of over 5%, and trace levels of contamination were found on an organic farm on Kauai. One package of seed of the Solo Waimanalo papaya, a non-genetically engineered variety purchased directly from the University of Hawaii, also tested positive for GMO contamination.
"It is an outrage that UH is selling contaminated papaya seeds to our local farmers and growers," said Toi Lahti, an organic farmer and papaya grower from the Big Island. "Not only could organic farmers lose their certification by growing genetically engineered papayas, GMO papaya seeds are also patented by Monsanto among others. This opens farmers to lawsuits for growing GMOs without paying patent fees first, even if they planted them without their knowledge."
"These tests indicate that UH's non-GMO seed stock is contaminated, and so there can be no doubt that the University must take immediate action to protect farmers, consumers and the environment," said Mark Query of GMO-Free Hawaii. "Papaya contamination is a case study in the threat that GMO contamination presents to local agriculture. It is now obvious that coexistence of traditional and GMO crops is impossible."
Farmers raised concerns about the impact the contamination crisis could have on export markets, particularly to countries like Japan that have stringent regulations about importing genetically engineered crops. "The Big Island is home to most of the commercial GMO papaya fields in the state," said Melanie Bondera, a farmer from Kona and member of the Hawaii Genetic Engineering Action Network. "The continued planting of GMO crops risk giving Hawaiian agriculture an undeservedly bad reputation in major export markets around the world."
Dr. Lorrin Pang, MD, MPH, a public health specialist, discussed potential human health threats posed by the GMO papaya and other GMO foods, including increased antibiotic resistance and unexpected allergenic reactions. "All of these concerns are troubling in themselves, but they would be less worrisome if the GMO mutations did not spread beyond our intentions. Today's report shows that they do," Dr. Pang said. "If a health problem arises that is attributable to GMO foods, it will be impossible to recall such a live, dangerous mutation once it has been released into the environment."
Dr. Hector Valenzuela, a scientist specializing in tropical crops from UH Manoa's Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, asserted that the University's focus on promoting genetic engineering is steering Hawaiian agriculture in the wrong direction. "Instead of supporting untested technologies like genetic engineering, the University of Hawaii should redirect their resources to focus on researching and promoting workable, non-GMO solutions to local agricultural problems. Hawaii farmers need agricultural advances that can protect their farms and our state's agricultural economy over the long run."
Bondera outlined the campaign being launched by GMO-Free Hawaii based on these contamination results. "Despite the problems local growers have had with the GMO papaya, the University is now genetically engineering taro, pineapple, banana, sugarcane, and other commodity crops," said Bondera. "The problems with GMO papaya contamination show us that there are too many unanswered questions about agricultural biotech to be releasing new experimental genetically engineered organisms into our environment. Hawaiian farmers want to see an immediate moratorium on the release of other genetically engineered commodity crops, and a commitment from the University to fund research into local, sustainable agriculture."
Contact: Melanie Bondera, Hawaii GEAN
Noli Hoye, GMO-Free Kauai
APPENDIX 2: A collection of Articles About the Mendocino Initiative.
A. Text of Ordinance
B. Mendocino voters may decide on local ban of altered crops.
Sacramento Bee, November 19, 2003
C. California County Bans Planting of Biotech Crops, Reuters, Mar 3, 2004
D. Mendocino's Measure H backers overcome a huge fund-raising disadvantage.
Sacramento Bee March 3, 2004
E. Biotech, Timber Fails in Calif. Counties
F. GMO = Get Monsanto Out?
AlterNet, March 3, 2004
G. Sonoma County may be a target next for bio-crop ban
Press Democrat, March 4, 2004
H. Biotech industry to fight vote against altered crops
Mercury News, Mar. 04, 2004
I.Biotech ban may sprout others
Sacramento Bee, March 5, 2004
J. Area growers wary after Mendocino measure passes
Sacramento Bee, March 6, 2004
K. Mendocino Sows Seeds of Dissent
San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 2004
The People of the County of Mendocino ordain as follows:
Section 1. Finding. The people of Mendocino County wish to protect the county's agriculture, environment, economy, and private property from genetic pollution by genetically modified organisms.
Section 2. Prohibition. It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to propagate, cultivate, raise, or grow genetically modified organisms in Mendocino County.
Section 3. Definitions.
(a) Genetically modified organisms means specific organisms whose native intrinsic DNA has been intentionally altered or amended with non species specific DNA. For purposes of this ordinance, genetic modification does not include organisms created by traditional breeding or hybridization, or to microorganisms created by moving genes or gene segments between unrelated bacteria.
(b) DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid means a complex protein that is present in every cell of an organism and is the 'blueprint' for the organism's development.
(c) Organism means any living thing.
(d) Agricultural Commissioner means the Agricultural Commissioner of Mendocino County.
Section 4. Penalties.
(a) The Agricultural Commissioner shall notify any person, firm, or corporation that may be in violation of Section 2 of this Ordinance, that any organisms in violation of this Ordinance are subject to confiscation and destruction.
(b) Any person, firm, or corporation that receives notification under subparagraph (a) shall have five days to respond to such notification with evidence that such organisms are not in violation of this Ordinance.
(c) Upon receipt of any evidence under paragraph (b), the Agricultural Commissioner shall consider such evidence and any other evidence that is presented or which is relevant to a determination of such violation. The Agricultural Commissioner shall make such determination as soon as possible, but at least before any genetic pollution may occur.
(d) Upon making a determination that a violation of this Ordinance exists, the Agricultural Commissioner shall cause to be confiscated and destroyed any such organisms that are in violation of this Ordinance before any genetic pollution may occur.
(e) If the Agricultural Commissioner determines there has been a violation of this Ordinance, in addition to confiscation and destruction of any organisms that are found to be in violation, the Agricultural Commissioner shall impose a monetary penalty on the person, firm, or corporation responsible for the violation, taking into account the amount of damage, any potential damage, and the willfulness of the person, firm, or corporation.
B.Biotech critics gain a victory
Mendocino voters may decide on local ban of altered crops.
By Mike Lee -- Bee Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Voters in Mendocino County will have a chance to be the first in the nation to ban the raising of genetically engineered crops.
Mendocino elections officials said Tuesday that backers of a biotech crop ban have submitted enough valid signatures to earn a spot on the March ballot.
The announcement marked a victory for a handful of organic enthusiasts who started building support months ago, hoping to energize Northern California anti-biotech activists and to draw out opposition on a topic of worldwide debate.
The Mendocino Organic Network proposed the ban as a way to protect the purity of the county's large and growing organic wine-grape industry from genetic contamination. The nucleus of the signature drive was a couple who run Ukiah Brewing Co., one of the nation's few all-organic brewpubs.
"It's very exciting to set the pace and not only protect our own county but maybe set a precedent for other counties to follow," said Allen Cooperrider, one of the owners.
The initiative is largely symbolic because no biotech crops are currently grown in Mendocino, nor are there commercial genetically modified versions of Mendocino's major crops, which include wine grapes and pears.
It's no surprise that the initiative took root in Mendocino, given the county's history of organic farming, its large Green Party registration and the pride many residents take in bucking corporate-driven movements.
"I think it will spawn other efforts in the state," said Dave Henson, director of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, a Sonoma County-based environmental organization.
"People will see that there is an opportunity to take this issue into their own hands," said Henson, who is working with environmentalists and farmers to shape Sonoma's response to genetically engineered crops.
Even though Mendocino's signature drive succeeded, a vote might be delayed until next fall if county supervisors decide at their Dec. 2 meeting to further evaluate the impact of the proposed law. Supervisors could enact the initiative themselves, but that seems unlikely at this point.
While county lawyers and politicians assess the initiative, opposition is forming. The Mendocino County Farm Bureau has come out against the ban, saying that it's bad policy for the county to undermine a technology regulated by the federal government.
It's still not clear whether the biotech industry will try to defeat the measure, as it did last fall when Oregon citizens unsuccessfully tried to force labeling of biotech foods.
At the Sacramento-based California Plant Health Association, a large association of fertilizer and pesticide companies, and at the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C., officials are monitoring the Mendocino initiative, but no action is planned.
The main concern of both organizations is that the initiative could limit farmers' crop choices.
Genetic engineering involves moving genes among species in ways that can't be done with traditional cross-breeding.
Studies show that Americans are largely ignorant about the use of biotech ingredients in an estimated 75 percent of all processed foods. So far, their inclusion has not proved harmful.
Sporadic opposition to biotechnology has surfaced in the United States, including a protest that shut down Sacramento streets last summer and spirited campaigns from Hawaii to Vermont to keep out biotech products. None, however, has led to a ban on the growing of genetically engineered crops.
Opposition is stronger in the European Union, where the government has approved a strict labeling policy for genetically engineered foods, and in developing countries. A few developing countries have refused biotech grain donated by the United States.
Major concerns include the environmental and human risks inherent in tinkering with nature. Proponents say the technology offers a way to reduce pesticide use and, potentially, a way to grow healthier foods.
In a sign of the increasing import of the worldwide debate, the Vatican last week convened a panel of experts on biotechnology to help shape church policy.
Closer to home, Bay Area anti-biotech activists are watching to see if Mendocino's landmark ban prevails.
"I think it would be pretty inspiring," said Devi Peri of GE-Free Marin in Fairfax.
"It seems like in a place like Marin, which is pretty progressive, it's got a lot of possibilities."
Even if all Bay Area counties followed Mendocino's lead, however, it would have little immediate effect given that major biotech crops -- corn, soybeans, cotton and canola -- aren't agricultural staples in Northern California.
But genetically modified fruit and nut trees are being developed, and the ecology center's Henson said Mendocino's initiative could generate important discussion before they arrive.
"We need literacy," he said. "Our task is to keep it in the public eye."
C.California County Bans Planting of Biotech Crops
By Carey Gillam
Wed Mar 3, 2004 02:35 PM ET
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Opponents of genetically modified foods celebrated a historic victory on Wednesday after voters approved a measure Tuesday night to make Mendocino County, California, the first in the nation to ban genetically modified crops and animals.
The ban was approved despite strong opposition from biotech companies including Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co., which have successfully defeated similar measures elsewhere around the United States.
"We won! We beat the biotech bullies," Laura Hamburg, spokesperson for the "Yes on Measure H" campaign, said on Wednesday. "The people emerged as victorious. We're sending Monsanto and the rest of the biotech corporate club packing in Mendocino County."
The measure bans the planting of biotech crops and the raising of livestock that have been genetically altered. Supporters said the designation as a biotech-free county should make products grown there more marketable, particularly to Europe where antibiotech sentiment is strong.
Officials with Monsanto and Dupont were not immediately available for comment.
Biotech proponents spent more than $600,000 to defeat the measure, compared to about $80,000 raised by its supporters.
Hamburg said the 80,000 residents in the northern California county, including about 50,000 voters, are closely tied to agriculture and are dedicated to preserving the purity of the vineyards and other agricultural resources there.
"We're part of a growing grass-roots movement of people all over the world standing up to the biotech industry," said Hamburg.
More initiatives are being organized to stop the spread of biotech crops.
Drives similar to Mendocino's effort are being planned in other California counties, and a bill is pending in Vermont that would place a two-year moratorium on planting and growing genetically modified crops.
In North Dakota, where Monsanto is planning to roll out the world's first genetically altered wheat, opponents are renewing efforts to at least temporarily prohibit the biotech crop.
Two years ago, consumer groups in Oregon tried to pass a measure requiring labeling of genetically modified foods, but lost after a coalition of biotech companies, including Monsanto, spent some $5.5 million to kill the initiative.
The vote in California comes amid widespread concerns globally about the genetic modification of crops.
Last week, countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and most of Latin America agreed to tighter rules governing trade in gene-modified seeds, over the opposition of the United States.
The United States has steadfastly defended the spread of biotech crops and has pushed a WTO complaint against the European Union for keeping its borders closed to the altered foods. Last month, the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs launched a Web site dedicated to biotech crop development information.
Biotech crop critics say the government is putting corporate interests ahead of the public interest.
They say the technology has not been fully tested to determine if it will cause health problems or irreversible harm to the environment. They also say it does little to address world hunger and health problems and offers only minimal benefits to some farmers, while contaminating conventional and organic crops.
Story by Carey Gillam
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
D. Anti-biotech measure approved
Mendocino's Measure H backers overcome a huge fund-raising disadvantage
By Edie Lau -- Bee Science Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Wednesday, March 3, 2004
UKIAH - Demonstrating that money doesn't buy everything, Mendocino County voters Tuesday made it illegal to grow genetically modified organisms in their community. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, the vote was 56 percent to 44 percent in support of Measure H and against "GMOs."
The decision has no immediate practical effect, because no genetically engineered plants or animals are grown or reared in the county. But the vote has tremendous symbolic value: It established the only anti-GMO law in the nation, and supporters overcame a 6-1 disadvantage in campaign spending.
"They got the money; we got the people!" said an exuberant Els Cooperrider, co-owner of an organic-foods restaurant and brew pub in Ukiah. Cooperrider, a former scientific researcher, thought up the initiative as a way of educating the public about biotechnology.
"It is unfortunate, but the voters have spoken," said Elizabeth Brazil, manager of the "No on H" campaign.
The fight over Measure H resulted in the most expensive election in Mendocino County history, attracting national attention and funding.
As of Monday afternoon, Measure H foes had collected $621,566, of which $600,000 came from CropLife America, a Washington, D.C.-based organization whose members include Monsanto Co., Bayer CropScience and Dow AgroSciences, leading developers of biotech crops.
Measure H advocates raised $93,525. Their largest single donation was $23,903 from the Center for Food Safety, an environmental group also in Washington, D.C.
The county measure prohibits growing genetically modified plants or animals locally.
The measure does not affect food sold in grocery stores that may contain engineered ingredients, nor animal feed.
Genetic engineering involves the manipulation of DNA in ways not possible through traditional breeding. By splicing genes from one organism to another, scientists have been able to create, for example, corn that produces an insecticidal toxin normally made by bacteria.
The United States is the No. 1 producer of biotech crops, accounting for 63 percent of 167 million acres worldwide. Four crops dominate: corn, soybeans, canola and cotton.
With their future potentially at stake, major agricultural biotechnology companies have worked doggedly to squelch protest efforts in this country.
A proposal in Oregon to label biotech foods went before voters in November 2002 and attracted $5 million in funding from industry, which opposes labeling. The measure failed, 71 percent to 29 percent.
E. Biotech, Timber Fails in Calif. Counties
By PAUL ELIAS, AP Biotechnology Writer
PHILO, Calif. - Voters along California's wild north coast defeated the biotech and timber industries, imposing the nation's first ban on raising
genetically engineered crops and animals and beating back a logging company's effort to recall a crusading local prosecutor.
Activists said Tuesday's stunning defeat of biotechnology in Mendocino County breathes momentum into similar local efforts just now getting underway nationwide, setting up a series of regulations the industry desperately wants
to avoid - and a big reason it spent so much money here....
F. GMO = Get Monsanto Out?
By David Kupfer, AlterNet
March 3, 2004
Signaling a turning point in the effort to halt the introduction of GMO crops in the U.S., the citizens of Mendocino county today dramatically approved a
countywide measure that prohibits the "propagation, cultivation, raising and growing of genetically modified organisms."
With 98% of the precincts reporting, the final tally was 56.34% for and 43.66% against.
Measure H, which had wide support from county residents, farmers, wineries, business owners, and even the County Sheriff, is the first county wide ban on GE crops in the US. It's is sure to be felt around the nation and world.
CropLife America - a national lobbying group representing agribusiness giants like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow - pumped an unprecedented $518,000 into the opposition's smear campaign to defeat the initiative and is expected to attack the measure in court. The proponents of Measure H spent $79,000, raised mostly from small local contributions.
"The County has never seen anything like this campaign. This victory means the people of Mendocino County saw through the bullying of corporations that were trying to undermine the democratic process. These multibillion dollar
corporations underestimated our savvy citizenry. Passage of Measure H is just the beginning. We're the first county... but the revolution is just
starting," said Els Cooperider, the community leader who spearheaded Measure H and co-owner of the certified all organic Ukiah Brewery.
"This is a great day for local democracy. It's a demonstration of citizens taking control at the most immediate level-which is at home in the places
where they live," said Doug Mosel, Yes on H's Campaign Coordinator. "It's an example of local government at it's best, acting to protect it's citizens and the local economy and future generations. In our present climate of corporate
domination of the food system this is a reclaiming of responsibility for agriculture at a local level. This amazing local campaign demonstrates where
transnational corporations are vulnerable. No amount of money can replace the love and commitment of people who care passionately about the place where they live."...
G.Sonoma County may be a target next for bio-crop ban
Vote expected next year at earliest; group in Humboldt may put issue on November ballot
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Activists in Sonoma and Humboldt counties already are planning local initiatives to ban genetically engineered crops in the wake of Tuesday's vote in Mendocino County, which became the first in the nation to prohibit such crops.
A Humboldt County measure is being prepared for the November ballot, and Sonoma County organizers are targeting an election next year or beyond.
Meanwhile, the biotech industry is considering a lawsuit to strike down Mendocino County's ban and may go to Sacramento or Washington to pre-empt local initiatives.
"We have to do something. With all the political subdivisions in the country, if every county started regulating what we do, the industry would grind to a halt," industry spokesman Allen Noe said.
Despite the uncertain legal future for Mendocino's Measure H, organic food interests around the state and across the nation were overjoyed by Tuesday's election.
"We're really excited about the success of Measure H," said David Henson of the Occidental Art and Ecology Center.
Mendocino voters by a vote of 56 percent to 44 percent approved the precedent-setting crop ban, a vote that's attracting attention around the globe. The nation's agricultural biotechnology industry spent nearly $700,000 to defeat Measure H, which it feared would trigger similar efforts.
Those fears have come to pass.
The Occidental center is part of a statewide coalition working to limit genetically engineered crops in California. At present, only gene-altered cotton is grown in the state, although a genetically engineered rice variety could be available for planting as soon as next year.
Sonoma County activists are likely to pursue an initiative to ban genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, Henson said.
"It's certainly the best way to allow the people of the county to have their say," Henson said.
However, there are no plans to try to place a measure on the November ballot, he said.
"We think it very important to have a robust discussion in the community about how to keep Sonoma GMO-free instead of rushing to place an initiative on the November ballot," Henson said.
In Humboldt County, however, activists are not waiting.
"We're hitting the ground running, thanks to Mendocino," said Michael Gann, who's helping coordinate a new petition drive to qualify a similar initiative on the November ballot.
The passage of Measure H was a stunning victory for supporters, who were outspent 7-to-1 by the nation's biggest producers of biotechnology crops used in agriculture.
CropLife America, a Washington-based consortium of biotech crop producers that include Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience, filed a late contribution report on Election Day showing it had dumped another $175,000 into the No on H campaign.
With the last-minute donation, CropLife America has provided $675,000 of the $696,566 raised by Measure H opponents.
In a county with 47,000 registered voters, Measure H foes spent about $60 for each of the 11,420 "no" votes cast.
Measure H advocates raised about $105,000, with the largest donation of $23,905 coming from the Center for Food Safety, based in Washington.
On Wednesday, CropLife spokesman Noe defended the spending, contending the group only had eight weeks to "change minds, clarify misconceptions and address fears" about a technology that is coming under increasing scrutiny.
"This kind of measure would never get traction in the Midwest, where growers have been working intimately with genetically engineered crops for years," Noe said.
The agriculture biotech industry fears a "domino effect" in California as the result of the Mendocino vote.
How to stop that is unclear, Noe said.
"We're regrouping, and considering our options," he said.
It's possible Measure H will be challenged in the courts, he said.
The biotech industry also may seek comprehensive legislation in Sacramento or Washington. The industry believes federal regulatory review is better than state, said Noe and Steve Beckley of the California Plant Health Association, which helped coordinate the CropLife campaign.
"There's tremendous ongoing international trade considerations associated with this issue, along with the complexity of the science itself. We believe only the federal government has the resources to regulate the industry," Noe said.
Beckley said creating a state level of regulatory review will only add to the "anti-business climate that confronts California."
Measure H supporters said the concerns were sour grapes.
"We won because we had the people behind us. They learned you can't buy that," said Allen Cooperrider, treasurer of the Yes on Measure H campaign.
H. Biotech industry to fight vote against altered crops
HUMBOLDT ACTIVISTS FOLLOW MENDOCINO EXAMPLE
Mercury News, Mar. 04, 2004
By Paul Jacobs
The biotechnology industry is considering a lawsuit or statewide legislation to nullify a successful Mendocino County ballot initiative, the first in the country to outlaw the growing of genetically modified crops.
At the same time, activists in at least one other rural Northern California county, Humboldt, are already at work on an identical initiative and hope to gather enough signatures to qualify it for their local ballot in November.
Backers of Mendocino County's Measure H were jubilant Wednesday after they won almost 57 percent of the vote for a homegrown initiative that bans the raising of genetically engineered organisms -- animals as well as plants -- within the county.
"This is just the beginning of the revolution," said Els Cooperrider, an author of the initiative and co-owner of the Ukiah Brewing Company & Restaurant, which became headquarters for the yes-on-Measure H campaign. ``We're the first county in the U.S. to prohibit the growing of genetically altered crops and animals, but we won't be the last."
They won even though they were outspent by a ratio of more than 6-to-1 by opponents, who raised more than $600,000 -- most of it from CropLife America, a trade and lobbying group representing the largest producers of genetically engineered seed in the world, including Monsanto, DuPont and Dow.
The measure's backers spent about $100,000 in a mostly volunteer effort that was headquartered in an establishment they say is the country's first certified organic brew pub, in the town of Ukiah.
"We're obviously disappointed with the outcome," said CropLife Vice President Allan Noe. "We're regrouping to see what our options are. They could be legislative. They could be legal."
In the past, county efforts to restrict local use of agricultural pesticides have been voided by the state Legislature, and a similar fate could await the Mendocino County crop ban.
Backers of the measure saw their effort as the beginning of a national movement that could spread county by county across the country.
Said Doug Mosel, the campaign's chief coordinator: "One of the lessons is that at the local level we can take control of our agricultural system where it can't be bought off by corporate money." Mosel pointed out that the opponents spent almost $55 per no vote in a campaign featuring a constant barrage of radio advertising and direct mail.
For the past month, a group organized by several Green Party activists has been trying to gather the 4,400 voter signatures needed to qualify an identical measure for Humboldt County.
In just six days of actively circulating its petition, the volunteer group, calling itself Humboldt Green Genes, has 1,200 signatures and is well on its way to qualifying for the November ballot, said Michael Gann, co-chair of the group.
"We copied their words," Gann said of the successful Mendocino County effort. "They were a model for us and still are now."
A group in vineyard-rich Sonoma County also is trying to build a coalition for a local ban on genetically engineered crops.
I.Biotech ban may sprout others
Mendocino County's action rattles genetic engineering industry
By Edie Lau and Mike Lee -- Bee Staff Writers
Friday, March 5, 2004
The 14,839 voters who this week banned genetically modified organisms in Mendocino County have shaken the establishment far beyond their small North Coast community.
Their success, the first in the United States, is encouraging voters in at least two, and maybe as many as nine, other California counties to consider pushing similar prohibitions on "GMOs," as the biotechnology products are called.
"We're next," exulted Martha Devine, a leader of the Humboldt Green Genes, which is gathering signatures for a ballot measure in November.
Fearful of growing anti-GMO sentiment in California and nationally, the biotech industry vowed to continue fighting Mendocino's initiative.
"I don't think we can afford to let it stand," said Allan Noe, spokesman for CropLife America, the industry trade group that almost single-handedly funded the No on Measure H campaign.
CropLife contributed $600,000 of the $621,566 raised to fight the ban. Supporters raised $93,525, a disparity of more than 6-to-1.
But the side with less money got more votes. Unofficial election results showed 14,839 yes votes to 11,420 no votes.
As returns came in Tuesday night, the Ukiah Brewing Co., an organic-foods restaurant and bar where Measure H was born, overflowed with celebrants, many of whom had given time to the campaign. Three blocks away, the opposition headquarters was dark, closed and empty, a "for lease" sign hanging outside.
Measure H makes it illegal to grow genetically engineered life forms in Mendocino County. Its power is not in the act itself - no known biotech plants or animals are being raised in the county - but in the statement it makes.
"Now people are going to realize, 'Wow, (if) Mendocino .. can say no, maybe we can say no,' " said Adam Gaska, 25, an organic farmer and Yes on H volunteer.
Genetically modified organisms are produced through gene splicing, a technique that enables scientists to move genes among plants, animals and microbes in ways that are impossible through conventional breeding.
The biotech industry and U.S. government maintain that genetic engineering is a benign tool that can be used to lessen agricultural pollution, including the use of herbicides and pesticides, and to improve crop yields, among other things.
Skeptics say the technology is too young to be sure of its safety, so its adoption should be slowed and monitored more closely.
The first biotech crop went to market in 1994. Today, 167 million acres worldwide are planted in biotech crops, chiefly corn, cotton, soybeans and canola engineered to produce their own insecticides or withstand treatment by herbicides. The United States is the world's top producer.
The biotech industry is expected to challenge Mendocino's ban on the grounds that it preempts federal regulations. It also may seek to override the ban through state legislation.
Surprised that the ban passed, CropLife's Noe speculated that opponents were hampered by the brevity of the campaign: The initiative qualified for the ballot three months before the election.
"The tactic of creating fear of the unknown was, in this short time frame, difficult to disarm," Noe said.
The issue of local control is one Dave Henson hopes will resonate in Sonoma County. Henson, director of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center there, is eyeing a possible no-GMO ballot measure next year.
"Farmers and environmentalists have to beware that biotech corporations are going to try to take away our rights to control our local economies," he said.
Els Cooperrider, a brew pub co-owner and former scientific researcher who dreamed up the Mendocino initiative to educate the public about genetically engineered food, said on election night that voters from nine counties had contacted her about similar measures. Cooperrider declined to identify the counties, except for Humboldt, for fear of tipping off the industry.
Maverick counties could force debate in Sacramento over an issue that the state mostly ignores. Anna Blackshaw, a consultant for the state Senate select committee on international trade and state policy, said Mendocino's ban delivers a "political imperative" for more action by the nation's largest farming state.
"Cities and localities ... want to see California play a bigger role," she said.
Any prospective change in state role likely would be influenced by the biotech industry, whose leaders are particularly concerned about what they perceive as an undercurrent of anti-technology sentiment expressed in Measure H.
"It's sending a negative message in a state where we rely on science to create the technology and the jobs of the future," said Joe Panetta, president and CEO of BIOCOM San Diego, a major industry trade group.
Panetta and dozens more biotech leaders were in Sacramento this week for an annual visit with legislators. A special "Measure H working group" was dispatched to stem anti-biotech momentum.
"What we don't want to see is bad information getting into the hands of members of the Legislature who might decide that it would be appropriate to ban genetically improved crops in California," Panetta said.
In Mendocino, meanwhile, county Agricultural Commissioner David Bengston took steps to enforce the new ban. He directed an inspector to study a list of plants that have been engineered and to watch for those varieties during her routine morning checks of shipments arriving through carriers, such as FedEx.
He also asked the manager of the county's largest seed supplier to ask his sources which varieties are genetically engineered.
He said although most such crops are grown in the Midwest, he can't treat the ban as simply symbolic. "You can't do that with an initiative," he said. "... I'm not taking it lightly at all."
Moreover, the initiative could inspire a new rebellion - one against the ban. "I would guess there's GMO material in the county right now," Bengston said. "I've had people tell me, if it passes, they're going to plant GMO plants."
In other states, resistance to genetic engineering could cause immediate practical problems for an industry that has benefited from consumers' being ignorant or indifferent on biotech foods.
Perhaps the most important anti-biotech action is taking shape in the Dakotas, where Monsanto Co. aims to sell wheat that withstands the company's flagship weedkiller Roundup.
A proposal to ban genetically engineered wheat was defeated in the North Dakota Senate in 2001, but residents are pushing a ballot initiative, and farm groups are aiming for more legislation.
Bill Wenzel, national director of the Farmer-to-Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering, said Mendocino's success adds fuel to an anti-biotech movement from Hawaii to Vermont.
"So far, we have been looking at a few brush fires (of resistance) here and there," he said, "but increasingly this is becoming a bigger issue that could in all likelihood result in a prairie fire."
J.Area growers wary after Mendocino measure passes
BEE STAFF WRITER
Last Updated: March 6, 2004, 08:16:32 AM PST
The passage of a controversial farming measure in distant Mendocino County has some Northern San Joaquin Valley growers wondering if similar restrictions could take root here.
Measure H, which bans the "propagation, cultivation, raising and growing of genetically modified organisms in Mendocino County" was approved by 56 percent of that county's voters.
Few genetically modified crops, known as GMOs, are being produced in California. The early research has focused on grain crops produced in the Midwest and in foreign countries.
Mendocino is the first county in the nation to ban GMOs, plants and animals whose "inherent DNA" is intentionally altered with "non-species-specific DNA."
"It's Mendocino now, but it could become an issue in Stanislaus or another county in the valley," said Jim Duarte, president of Duarte Nursery in Hughson.
Growers and environmentalists in Humboldt and Sonoma counties were developing similar measures even before Measure H was approved Tuesday.
"This is an issue that worries people, farmers and consumers, because we're still learning how GMOs affect our environment," said Dave Watts, owner of Sanhedrin Nursery in Willits and a Measure H supporter. "We don't want to stop progress, we just want to make sure that it's safe."
Despite the lack of GMO crops in California, there is plenty of livestock in the valley, including poultry and cattle, that dine on GMO grains.
Valley consumers expressed mixed views on the subject, ranging from curious to concerned.
Safety, taste concern shoppers
Shoppers emerging from the Save Mart grocery store at Oakdale Road and Scenic Avenue in Modesto said their priority was food safety and taste, but they also asked if GMO foods would impact the price of food.
Researchers said they won't know that until more GMO foods are introduced to the market.
Measure H also attracted attention because of the resources biotechnology and chemical companies threw into their unsuccessful bid to defeat the proposal.
More than $600,000 was spent trying to defeat the measure, according to financial campaign records. CropLife America, a Washington, D.C. trade group representing biotech companies, donated the majority of it.
Supporters of Measure H spent less than $100,000 on their effort.
Concerns about the impact of GMOs on human health, existing crops and even the farm economy have been prominent in the United States and abroad. Many European countries refuse to accept GMO-processed foods, including corn, soybeans and livestock that consume such grains.
"Companies that benefit from GMOs are pushing products to market too quickly," said Watts, a nursery owner for 20 years. "We run a terrible risk letting these get into our food supply while there are still questions."
Hailed by its proponents as a victory for farmers, some in the valley say it's a step backward.
"Banning GMOs is pointing us back to the dark ages," Duarte said. "I realize the need to be cautious, but a ban like this only creates more fear about a product that could truly benefit people."
The California Farm Bureau Federation and other growers' groups in the valley expressed similar concerns about the law.
Measure H doesn't outlaw traditional breeding methods or hybridization, which researchers have used to give consumers juicier nectarines, heartier tomatoes and exotic varieties, including pluots and cherry-plums.
Nor does the measure prohibit GMO foods from being sold in stores or served in restaurants.
Duarte said public concern of GMO foods is already affecting the industry. The research arm of his nursery recently stopped work on GMO plants because it couldn't identify a market that would warrant the investment.
"How do we sell a GMO tree to a grower, when four years from now, there might not be anyone to buy his product?" Duarte said.
K.Mendocino Sows Seeds of Dissent
Monday, March 8, 2004
San Francisco Chronicle
by Ken Garcia
THE BIOTECH corporations producing genetically engineered plants have spent years trying to create seeds that are immune to a variety of pests and insecticides. But they can't find a formula to stop the rise in contamination of their public image and tactics.
So-called "Franken-food" producers like the Monsanto, DuPont and Dow companies have spawned a real monster -- a growing movement in agricultural communities to ban genetically altered crops, the corporations' DNA-modified bread and butter.
Nowhere in the country is this more evident than in Northern California, where rural Mendocino County last week became the nation's first region to ban genetically modified organisms from being raised within its borders. It was of such a serious concern to the multibillion-dollar biotech industry that it spent nearly $700,000 trying to defeat the measure, nearly $60 for every man, woman and child in the county.
The upshot? It looks as if a number of neighboring counties are prepared to follow suit -- officials in Humboldt, Sonoma and Marin counties are said to be contemplating similar ordinances and several states are considering even more strict initiatives. Indeed, the movement to ban genetically modified plants and foods is sweeping the country almost faster than same-sex marriage.
"This is the first time people have taken on these corporate giants and won,'' said Laura Hamburg, a spokeswoman for Mendocino County's Measure H campaign, which won with nearly 57 percent of the vote. "It's a sign of hope and inspiration for grassroots movements around the country.''
The grass is definitely not greener for the synthetic-life-producing biotech giants who have been battling skirmishes on fronts from Oregon to France. Organic food producers -- one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative segments of U.S. agriculture -- have stepped up their efforts to market their products as better, healthier alternatives to gene-altered plants and animals. Recent findings by independent scientists regarding contamination of conventional crops by mysteriously wandering DNA-manipulated pollen have heightened fears among farmers about future crop damage.
A few weeks ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a respected health and environmental group, released a 70-page report that found that a surprising amount of the U.S. supply of regular crop seeds had been contaminated with strands of genetically-altered DNA.
The study, "Gone to Seed,'' concluded that more than two-thirds of 36 conventional canola, soy and corn seeds contained traces of DNA from genetically enhanced crops. The report warned that if the United States can't do a better job of safeguarding its food supply, it would be nearly impossible to guarantee any portion of it would be free of genetically-altered elements.
Such a finding for an already leery public is the worst possible news for the likes of Monsanto, which is facing fever-pitched opposition to DNA-altered products in European and Asian trade markets. Couple that with the fact that wine-growing regions such as Mendocino see organic products as a way to market themselves competitively to foreign buyers and you understand why the biochemical giants are spending millions trying to stomp out similar political uprisings.
The Mendocino County fight was sown with seeds of desperation from the start. Rather than deal with science and safety questions, the opponents of the genetic plant ban focused on phantom issues such as increased taxes. The slick mailers and radio ads delivered during the stretch run of the campaign also intimated that farmers would suffer an invasion of privacy from agricultural inspectors -- a pretty clever ploy in a county where marijuana is the No. 1 cash crop.
Yet it's clear that attempting to stave off similar campaigns in the future is going to take more than just endless pockets of money. In California, where organic farming is booming, producing grapes and other crops that have been certified "uncontaminated'' will certainly be a major marketing pitch for foreign countries that are nearly rabid about genetically modified organisms.
With major wine producers stretching from Southern California to Washington state, it's only a matter of time before the debate over engineered seeds begins to take root.
The biotech agricultural companies are in a position similar to where the tobacco industry was a decade ago, fighting wave after wave of legal, safety and health challenges from individuals, cities and states. The backlash won't be easily contained -- it's already blowing in the wind.
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle
APPENDIX III: Media Reports On Other GMO Bans
One More California county bans genetically engineered organisms
Nov 4, 2004
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.
Arcata to move forward with anti-GMO ordinance
By Meghan Vogel The Times-Standard
November 04, 2004
ARCATA -- The Arcata City Council unanimously voted to move forward with an ordinance banning genetically modified crops in the city, which will be up for final adoption on Nov. 17.
The ordinance was once again before the council on Wednesday night. The city's Open Space/Agriculture Committee had recommended the city slow down on the ordinance to gather more community input -- specifically more input from the agricultural community. The council, however, felt the ordinance was already solid, and recent improvements to its language have made it even more so.
Arcata attorney Greg Allen, who requested the city look at such an ordinance, said the adoption of such an ordinance was important not only for Humboldt County, but for the rest of the state.
Responding to Assault on County Initiatives to Ban GE Crops, by Doug Mosel
All sides in the critical debate about genetically engineered crops surely realize that the more the public learns about this experimental technology and its track record, the more they have reservations about it. The Charlotte Observer reported on November 3 that public acceptance of food biotechnology is declining.
Is this why Ted Sheely, his Truth About Trade and Technology group (Chronicle, 10/28), and their activist allies in the Farm Bureau, Cattlemen's Association and universities teamed up in a blistering assault on the recent ballot measures to ban GE crops in Butte and San Luis Obispo Counties?
Last March the grassroots victory over the biotech industry-funded campaign against Measure H in Mendocino County inspired citizens in four California counties to place similar measures on the November 2 ballot.
Determined never to permit a repeat of their March loss, industry allies studied how Measure H was passed against such odds. It must be said that they learned well, and strategized the defeat of the Butte and San Luis Obispo measures.
One assessment for the biotech forces was conducted by a UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) advisor from Mendocino County and the UCCE biotechnology specialist at UC Berkeley. They concluded that UC scientists can address people's concerns about genetic engineering by providing "factual information."
It would have been of great service to voters in both counties if they could have counted on scientists from UC Davis, UC Berkeley and Cal Poly for unbiased information about genetically engineered crops.
Instead, voters heard scientists from these public institutions sing the praises of GE crops - a far cry from presenting a factual assessment of this still controversial technology.
Sadly, considerable doubt has been cast on the public trust in university research on GE crops. An industry-sponsored program at UC Berkeley exists to teach scientists how to "talk biotechnology in the community."
The California State University biotechnology program (CUSUPERB) adopted an official public position opposing the county initiatives in California.
Over the last ten years UC Davis received almost $10 million from the agbiotech giants. Of the GE crop research there, Paul Gepts, professor of agronomy and plant genetics, recently said, "On this campusÅ there is actually very little research going on - no organized effort - about the environmental effects of GMOs."
UC Berkeley researcher Ignacio Chapela published a study that found genetic contamination of traditional maize crops in Mexico. So great was the industry pressure on Nature, the journal where his study appeared, that the editors disavowed his research. Dr. Chapela, who had also questioned the $25 million partnership between UCB and biotech company Novartis, was refused tenure in 2003.
The debate about genetically engineered crops in California is hardly over. Over-whelming two under-funded local ballot initiatives with Farm Bureau-funded TV spots laced with misleading, fear-based information is not the last word.
In the next few years, citizens will bring new initiatives before voters to insure that there is no further genetic contamination of food and fields in California.
In the campaigns to come, how can the public trust university scientists for "factual information" about genetic engineering when their input is so important to informed decisions?
The citizen initiatives springing up all over California are fine examples of people taking responsibility for the future of food. They exemplify courageous action from the heart, standing against heavily-bankrolled campaigns of misinformation.
At stake is the right of citizens to safeguard the integrity of the world's seed supply, our health and environment, and for generations to come, the gene pool on which Life itself depends.
Doug Mosel, Redwood Valley, CA, coordinated the campaign that made Mendocino County the first in the nation to ban the growing of genetically engineered crops.