Backers of ban on bioengineered crops regroup (11/11/2005)

EXCERPT: Opponents appeared to outspend supporters by almost 2 to 1, relying heavily on TV and radio ads.

Backers of ban on bioengineered crops regroup after failure at polls
Future efforts may deal with labeling, blocking state law
Jim Doyle, Chronicle Staff Writer
San Francisco Chronicle, November 10, 2005

Supporters of the defeated ballot initiative to ban genetically engineered crops in Sonoma County vowed Wednesday to pursue additional strategies to block biotechnology's advances into farming.

But the initiative's chief author, Dave Henson, said he has no plans to pursue another ballot measure to ban bioengineered crops.

Measure M, which would have established a 10-year moratorium on the cultivation, sale or distribution of bioengineered crops, seeds and organisms, was flatly rejected by Sonoma County voters.

Opponents of Measure M got off to a strong start, garnering a 3-to-2 lead in the 76,433 absentee votes counted. The initiative drew support from outlying precincts, especially in west Sonoma County. But with all precincts counted, it failed by a decisive ratio of 55.6 percent to 44.4 percent.

"The Farm Bureau and biotech companies will spend whatever it takes and say whatever it takes to defeat these initiatives ... to make sure that these 'GE-free zones' don't spread," Henson said. "We got over 60,000 votes in this county for yes on M. A couple of months ago, there were probably 200 people who could have given you an educated opinion about genetic engineering."

His campaign rallied more than 500 volunteers, including salmon fishermen, conventional and organic farmers, restaurateurs and environmentalists.

Henson said future campaigns may focus on securing labels for genetically modified organisms in food products and lobbying to defeat state legislation that would pre-empt counties from outlawing such crops.

Marin, Mendocino and Trinity counties have such bans. A dozen or so California counties have passed resolutions promoting genetically modified crops.

Critics of Measure M included the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the directors of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association, and the Santa Rosa and Petaluma chambers of commerce.

"I believe that the electorate spoke out for agriculture in Sonoma County," said Rob Muelrath, a consultant for the opposition, "and that family farmers and ranchers in Sonoma County will continue to have the choices they need to sustain their operations."

Lex McCorvey, who heads the County Farm Bureau, credited the opposition's victory with "slowly building momentum based on science and facts."

Together the two sides reported raising more than $900,000. Opponents appeared to outspend supporters by almost 2 to 1, relying heavily on TV and radio ads.

Henson said one turning point in the campaign involved a decision by the Redwood Empire Veterinary Medical Association to oppose Measure M. The group warned that the initiative could prevent livestock and pets from receiving certain vaccines, which Measure M's supporters denied.

"They'll have to sit back and analyze what direction they'll go in," McCorvey said of Measure M's sponsors. "We also realize that this is their nucleus in Sonoma County. That's why it's important that it's stopped here."

E-mail Jim Doyle at [email protected].

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