Luke Anderson on Grassroots Actions in California and Hawaii - Review of the year (6/1/2005)

"...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.lobbywatch.org/archive.asp

2004 report - Grassroots Actions in California and Hawaii
by Luke Anderson

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.


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)


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)


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 C

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