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Mendocino’s Ban on GMOs

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are made when genes from one species are inserted into another in an effort to import a desired trait. For example, a gene that helps prevent arctic fish from freezing might be injected into a strawberry in hopes of making the fruit frost-resistant. While this might sound like a wonderful scientific advance, in fact we know very little about the outcomes of such genetic interference. Because there has been no long-term safety testing of genetically engineered food, we don’t know much about the effect of GMOs on the environment or on human health. What can we do to protect our food chain from potential harm by GMOs? We can ban GMOs until we know more about them.

This is what residents of Mendocino County (CA) did when they passed Measure H, the first sweeping GMO ban in the United States. Measure H states, “It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to propagate, cultivate, raise or grow genetically modified organisms in Mendocino County.” The law does not include organisms created by traditional breeding or hybridization and it exempts food on shelves and livestock feed. The County agriculture commissioner and his staff will enforce Measure H during their routine inspections of nursery stock and seeds entering the County. GMOs will be added to the list of items to look for, and banned organisms will be confiscated and destroyed and their importers fined.

The fight to ban GMOs from Mendocino County pitted farmers and local businesses against giants in the biotech industry. The Campaign Committee for a GMO Free Mendocino raised $120,000 with which to conduct this fight. CropLife America, a trade association for companies that make pesticides, fertilizers, and genetically modified seeds, spent $700,000 to defeat the ban, using radio ads, mailings, and phone banks toward this end. A similar effort by CropLife America defeated an Oregon initiative that would have required labeling of genetically modified products.

The idea for Measure H developed during a meeting of the Mendocino Organic Network. Els Cooperrider, a retired scientist who now owns the country’s only organic-brew pub, first suggested the ban. Those who supported Measure H were concerned with maintaining the reputation of Mendocino’s organic products in the world market; 150 of the County’s farmers and businesses use the organic label on their products. Farmers and business owners feared losing their organic certification through GMO crop pollution, which would occur if GMOs’ pollen spread to organic crops.

According to Ms. Cooperrider, the Campaign Committee for a GMO Free Mendocino was successful in its efforts because of their tireless grassroots efforts. “They [the biotech industry] had the money, and we had the people. We had 150 people on the ground at any one time. The only thing we set out to do was to educate people what are GMOs, who makes them and why. Once people figured that out, they wanted to learn more and had a tendency to reject them.” (Fenly, 2004)

Contact Person: Campaign Committee for a GMO Free Mendocino

Address: P.O. Box 1139
Ukiah, CA 95482

Phone: 707-485-6672

Web site: www.gmofreemendo.com

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