Biotech industry to fight vote against altered crops (4/3/2004)

Biotech industry to fight vote against altered crops
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.   


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