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Mendocino County Voters Ban Biotech Crops, Animals

by Mike Geniella
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
March 3, 2004

First county in U.S. to bar gene-altered farming

Mendocino County voters on Tuesday were the first in the nation to ban genetically engineered crops and animals.

By a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, they approved Measure H, an initiative pushed by the county's organic farmers and one that has far greater symbolic impact than practical effect because such crops are not likely to be introduced in the county for years.

Some of the nation's largest agricultural interests spent more than a half-million dollars in a bid to defeat the measure, fearing that it could become a precedent for other counties.

And that is likely to happen.

"Passage of Measure H is just the beginning. We're the first county, but the revolution is just starting," said Els Cooperrider, owner of a Ukiah organic brew pub who spearheaded the campaign.

Groups in Sonoma and Humboldt counties already are preparing drives to qualify similar initiatives on the November ballot. Allen Henson of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center has said passage of Measure H will give Sonoma County activists incentive to develop a policy to keep out genetically engineered crops.

Cooperrider and Measure H supporters were jubilant Tuesday night, especially after having been outspent by a 7-1 margin in the most hotly contested initiative election in Mendocino County history.

All but two Fort Bragg precincts and about 3,000 absentee ballots, representing less than 2 percent of the vote, had been counted by 10 p.m. Tuesday.

The election drew statewide, national and even international attention, with reporters for major news media outlets on hand to witness the noisy Measure H victory celebration at the Cooperrider pub.

A consortium of agri-business interests called CropLife America waged a two-month campaign to defeat the measure. CropLife was joined by local and state Farm Bureau leaders and members of the county's agricultural establishment.

But their high-profile efforts weren't enough.

A coalition of organic grape growers, businesses and local political figures convinced voters that Mendocino should take a stand in the global debate over the adequacy of safeguards surrounding a fast-emerging biotechnology industry. A current void in state law allowed the issue to be placed before Mendocino voters.

"This is an issue that needs to be dealt with at the state, national or global level, but you have to start somewhere and that somewhere is Mendocino County," said Measure H supporter Art Harwood of Harwood Products.

Elizabeth Brazil, coordinator of the campaign to defeat Measure H, said Tuesday night that opponents were disappointed by the results.

"Mendocino County is going to be harmed by this measure," Brazil said.

Brazil declined to speculate whether local opponents and CropLife are prepared to mount legal and legislative challenges to Measure H. Mendocino County voters in the 1970s adopted an initiative to ban aerial spraying of pesticides, but the state Legislature within two weeks stripped counties of that right.

Spokeswoman Laura Hamburg said supporters are prepared for any challenge. "We have had this ordinance reviewed by top lawyers, who say they're confident it will stand up to any challenge."


Text of Measure H

Mendocino County, California


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 (5) 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.


Biotech Industry To Fight Vote Against Altered Crops

By Paul Jacobs Mercury News March 04, 2004

Humboldt activists follow mendocino example

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.


Vermont Senate on GMOs: Unanimous YES on Farmer Protection Act

GE Free VT Media Release
Contact: Amy Shollenberger, Rural Vermont 802.793.1114
Doyle Canning, GE Free VT 802.279.0985
March 10, 2004

Vermont Bill is first-in-the-nation to hold biotech corporations accountable for contamination by genetically engineered crops.

Montpelier, VT — Vermont Senators voted 28-0 Wednesday to support the Farmer Protection Act (S.164), a bill to hold biotech corporations liable for unintended contamination of conventional or organic crops by genetically engineered plant materials. This historic decision was peppered by debate on the patent laws that allow biotech corporations like Monsanto to sue farmers for patent infringement who are contaminated with GMO pollen or plant materials. Senator Vincent Illuzzi (R-Essex-Orleans) dramatically illustrated cross-pollination of corn varieties with multi-colored ears of Vermont corn. Today's vote comes after 79 Vermont towns have passed Town Meeting measures calling on lawmakers in Montpelier and Washington enact a moratorium on GMOs, and 10% of Vermont's conventional dairy farmers have pledged not to plant the crops. Vermont joins Mendocino County, CA at the forefront of domestic resistance to genetically engineered crops.

"The Farmer Protection Act is a pre-emptive strike to stop predatory lawsuits against Vermont's family farmers by biotech companies like Monsanto," said Ben Davis with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. "Today the Vermont Senate took the first step to defend family farmers from these kinds of intimidation suits and the hazards of genetically engineered crops." VPIRG is among a coalition of groups including Rural Vermont, Institute for Social Ecology, and Vermont Genetic Engineering Action Network who are spearheading the grassroots campaign for the first "GE Free" state in the union.

"Big biotech corporations are writing the rules in their own interests at the national and international level, and using their patented GMOs as a tool to contaminate and control farmers," said Doyle Canning, a campaigner with the GE Free VT campaign. "Vermont is showing that a little state can make a big statement against corporate greed and work towards a Time Out on this technology. We are working in concert with the folks in Hawaii, Mendocino County, and in the 30 nations around the world where GMO crops are stringently regulated, to put farmers first."

Today's Farmer Protection Act was amended with an 18-11 vote to include language specifically targeting genetic engineering patent lawsuits "The Sears-Illuzzi amendment defines 'genetically engineered seeds or plant parts' as different from conventional seeds or plant parts. This is unprecedented and undermines the industry's claim that GE products are the same as traditional products," said Amy Shollenberger, Policy Director at Rural Vermont. "The amendment says that a person who is found to have 'trace amounts' of genetically engineered material shall be indemnified by the manufacturer if they are sued. In other words, it protects a farmer from being sued by the manufacturer if the farmer's crops are contaminated with GMO material." Tomorrow Shollenberger and 10 other GE Free VT supporters will testify to the House Agriculture Committee 9 AM-11:30 AM on a related bill on Genetically Engineered Crops.

The GE Free Vermont Campaign on Genetic Engineering is a statewide coalition of public interest groups, businesses, concerned citizens and farmers, who are organizing to oppose genetic engineering at the local, state and national level, and calling for a "Time Out" on GMOs.

For more information: GE Free VT


Seeds of Distraction:
The Biotech Companies Want us to Consider Everything Except their Motives

by George Monbiot
The Guardian/UK
March 9, 2004

The question is as simple as this: do you want a few corporations to monopolize the global food supply? If the answer is yes, you should welcome the announcement the government is expected to make today, that the commercial planting of a GM crop in Britain can go ahead. If the answer is no, you should regret it. The principal promotional effort of the genetic engineering industry is to distract us from this question.

GM technology permits companies to ensure that everything we eat is owned by them. They can patent the seeds and the processes which give rise to them. They can make sure that crops can't be grown without their patented chemicals. They can prevent seeds from reproducing themselves. By buying up competing seed companies and closing them down, they can capture the food market, the biggest and most diverse market of all.

No one in her right mind would welcome this, so the corporations must persuade us to focus on something else. At first they talked of enhancing consumer choice, but when the carrot failed, they switched to the stick. Now we are told that unless we support the deployment of GM crops in Britain, our science base will collapse. And that, by refusing to eat GM products in Europe, we are threatening the developing world with starvation. Both arguments are, shall we say, imaginative, but in public relations cogency counts for little. All that matters is that you spin the discussion out for long enough to achieve the necessary result. And that means recruiting eminent figures to make the case on your behalf.

Last October, 114 scientists, many of whom receive funding from the biotech industry, sent an open letter to the Prime Minister claiming that Britain's lack of enthusiasm for GM crops "will inhibit our ability to contribute to scientific knowledge internationally".1 Scientists specializing in this field, they claimed, were being forced to leave the country to find work elsewhere.

Now forgive me if you've heard this before, but it seems to need repeating. GM crops are not science. They are technological products of science. To claim, as Tony Blair and several senior scientists have done, that those who oppose GM are "anti-science" is like claiming that those who oppose chemical weapons are anti-chemistry. Scientists are under no greater obligation to defend GM food than they are to defend the manufacture of Barbie dolls.

This is not to say that the signatories were wrong to claim that some researchers, who have specialized in the development of engineered crops, are now leaving Britain to find work elsewhere. As the public has rejected their products, the biotech companies have begun withdrawing from this country, and they are taking their funding with them. But if scientists attach their livelihoods to the market, they can expect their livelihoods to be affected by market forces. The people who wrote to Blair seem to want it both ways: commercial funding, insulated from commercial decisions.

In truth, the biotech companies' contribution to research in Britain has been small. Far more money has come from the government. Its Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, for example, funds 26 projects on GM crops and just one on organic farming.2 If scientists want a source of funding that's unlikely to be jeopardized by public concern, they should lobby for this ratio to be reversed.

But the plight of the men in white coats isn't much of a tearjerker. A far more effective form of emotional blackmail is the one deployed in the Guardian last week by Lord Taverne, the founder of the Prima PR consultancy. "The strongest argument in favor of developing GM crops," he wrote, "is the contribution they can make to reducing world poverty, hunger and disease."3

There's little doubt that some GM crops produce higher yields than some conventional crops, or that they can be modified to contain more nutrients, though both of these developments have been over-hyped. Two projects have been cited everywhere: a sweet potato being engineered in Kenya to resist viruses, and vitamin A-enhanced rice. The first scheme has just collapsed. Despite $6m of funding from Monsanto, the World Bank and the US government, and endless hype in the press, it turns out to have produced no improvement in virus resistance, and a decrease in yield.4 Just over the border in Uganda, a far cheaper conventional breeding program has almost doubled sweet potato yields. The other, never more than a concept, now turns out not to work even in theory: malnourished people appear not to be able to absorb vitamin A in this form.5 But none of this stops Lord Taverne, or George Bush, or the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, from citing them as miracle cures for global hunger.

But some trials of this kind are succeeding, improving both yield and nutritional content. Despite the best efforts of the industry's boosters to confuse the two ideas, however, this does not equate to feeding the world.

The world has a surplus of food, but still people go hungry. They go hungry because they cannot afford to buy it. They cannot afford to buy it because the sources of wealth and the means of production have been captured and in some cases monopolized by landowners and corporations. The purpose of the biotech industry is to capture and monopolize the sources of wealth and the means of production.

Now in some places governments or unselfish private researchers are producing GM crops which are free from patents and not dependent on the application of proprietary pesticides, and these could well be of benefit to small farmers in the developing world. But Taverne and the other propagandists are seeking to persuade us to approve a corporate model of GM development in the rich world, in the hope that this will somehow encourage the opposite model to develop in the poor world.

Indeed, it is hard to see what on earth the production of crops for local people in poor nations has to do with consumer preferences in Britain. Like the scientists who wrote to Blair, the emotional blackmailers want to have it both ways: these crops are being grown to feed starving people, but the starving people won't be able to eat them unless, er ... they can export this food to Britain.

And here we encounter the perpetually neglected truth about GM crops. The great majority are not being grown to feed local people. In fact, they are not being grown to feed people at all, but to feed livestock, whose meat, milk and eggs are then sold to the world's richer consumers. The GM maize the government is expected to approve today is no exception. If in the next 30 years there is a global food crisis, it will be because the arable land which should be producing food for humans is instead producing feed for animals.

The biotech companies are not interested in whether or not science is flourishing or people are starving. They simply want to make money. The best way to make money is to control the market. But before you can control the market, you must first convince the people that there's something else at stake.


  1. Professor Derek Burke and others, 30th October 2003. Open Letter to The Right Honorable Tony Blair MP.

  2. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Current Grants awarded by Agri-Food Committee

  3. Dick Taverne, 3rd March 2004. The Huge Benefits of GM Are Being Blocked By Blind Opposition. The Guardian.

  4. New Scientist, 7 February 2004. Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails. Vol 181 No. 2433.

  5. Alex Kirby, 24 September, 2003. 'Mirage' of GM's golden promise. BBC News Online.

Related Link: Food as Political Weapon - March 2004 Acres USA Interview with Devinder Sharma


British OK GM Maize, Greenpeace Furious

March 10, 2004

LONDON - Britain gave conditional approval this week for commercial planting of genetically modified (GM) maize, prompting fury from environmentalists who threatened to turn the hugely controversial issue into a "nightmare" for Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told parliament the government would agree "in principle" to commercial cultivation of GM herbicide-tolerant maize but said it did not expect any to be grown for at least a year."There is no scientific case for a blanket approval of all the uses of GM," she said. "Safety, human health and the environment must remain at the heart of our regulatory regime."But equally there is no scientific case for a blanket ban on the use of GM."More than three years of UK trials of gene-altered, herbicide-resistant crops have found that pesticides used on two of them - sugar beet and rapeseed - posed a greater threat to the environment than those used on conventional crops.Only T25/Chardon LL maize - a type of cattle feed developed by German chemical giant Bayer - fared better.Beckett said Britain would oppose growing of GM beet and oilseed rape, that the maize should only be grown as it had been during the field trials and that further research should be conducted on the possible effects on conventional maize."I do not in fact anticipate any commercial cultivation of GM maize before Spring 2005 at the earliest," she said.Further hurdles remain, not least securing backing from the devolved Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly.

Environmentalists' Fury

The National Farmers Union welcomed the decision but urged the government to proceed with caution.

Green campaigners, however, were aghast. "The government has given the thumbs up to GM maize and shown two fingers to the British public," said Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper. "Tony Blair must not ignore the threat GM poses to our food, farming and the environment."

Blair is a long-time supporter of the technology, in principle, arguing that too much dither risks Britain's position at the cutting edge of scientific innovation, capitalizing on the multi-billion dollar biotechnology industry.

But British and wider European public opinion is overwhelmingly skeptical about so-called "Frankenstein Foods."

Environmental group Greenpeace pledged to turn the issue into a "nightmare" for Blair at next year's expected election.

"There are thousands of people ready to fight him on this. The end result could be chaos in the countryside during an election year," said Greenpeace campaigner Sarah North.

Critics say Blair is bowing to his American allies.

The United States, the world's largest producer of gene crops, has been lobbying hard for the European Union to end its effective five-year ban on GM imports and is also trying to get the World Trade Organization to declare the moratorium illegal.

"This is the wrong decision," Blair's former environment minister, Michael Meacher, said. "It is driven by the commercial interests of the big biotech companies and no doubt pressure from the White House."

Last week, parliament's cross-party Environmental Audit Committee said doubts remained about the environmental impact of GM crops and that trials on maize, which it said were flawed, should be restarted before commercial planting was allowed.

Whatever the environmental concerns, the British Medical Association said GM foods were unlikely to harm human health.

Additional reporting by David Cullen

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