Anti-biotech measure approved

Mendocino's Measure H backers overcome a huge fund-raising disadvantage.

By Edie Lau -- Bee Science Writer

Published Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Demonstrating that money doesn't buy everything, Mendocino County voters Tuesday made it illegal to grow genetically modified organisms in their community.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, the vote was 56 percent to 44 percent in support of Measure H and against "GMOs."

The decision has no immediate practical effect, because no genetically engineered plants or animals are grown or reared in the county. But the vote has tremendous symbolic value: It established the only anti-GMO law in the nation, and supporters overcame a 6-1 disadvantage in campaign spending.

"They got the money; we got the people!" said an exuberant Els Cooperrider, co-owner of an organic-foods restaurant and brew pub in Ukiah. Cooperrider, a former scientific researcher, thought up the initiative as a way of educating the public about biotechnology.

"It is unfortunate, but the voters have spoken," said Elizabeth Brazil, manager of the "No on H" campaign.

The fight over Measure H resulted in the most expensive election in Mendocino County history, attracting national attention and funding.

As of Monday afternoon, Measure H foes had collected $621,566, of which $600,000 came from CropLife America, a Washington, D.C.-based organization whose members include Monsanto Co., Bayer CropScience and Dow AgroSciences, leading developers of biotech crops.

Measure H advocates raised $93,525. Their largest single donation was $23,903 from the Center for Food Safety, an environmental group also in Washington, D.C.

The county measure prohibits growing genetically modified plants or animals locally.

The measure does not affect food sold in grocery stores that may contain engineered ingredients, nor animal feed.

Genetic engineering involves the manipulation of DNA in ways not possible through traditional breeding. By splicing genes from one organism to another, scientists have been able to create, for example, corn that produces an insecticidal toxin normally made by bacteria.

The United States is the No. 1 producer of biotech crops, accounting for 63 percent of 167 million acres worldwide. Four crops dominate: corn, soybeans, canola and cotton.

With their future potentially at stake, major agricultural biotechnology companies have worked doggedly to squelch protest efforts in this country.

A proposal in Oregon to label biotech foods went before voters in November 2002 and attracted $5 million in funding from industry, which opposes labeling. The measure failed, 71 percent to 29 percent.


About the Writer The Bee's Edie Lau can be reached at (916) 321-1098 or elau@sacbee.com.