The Mendocino Model: Californians Support Sustainable Agriculture!

On March 6, 2004 residents of Mendocino County passed Measure H, banning the planting of Genetically Engineered (GE) crops — also known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) — within their county. The measure is now being used as a model in at least a dozen other counties in California where local residents are well on their way to passing similar measures. Organizers in Butte, Humboldt, Marin and San Luis Obispo counties have already collected enough signatures to place measures on the November ballot. Californians feel that local measures seeking to ban the cultivation of GE crops are critical steps toward economically and ecologically sustainable agriculture.

California farmers produce more than 350 varieties of crops and export more than any state in the US. Although California is recognized as a world leader in organic food production and sustainable agriculture, the world’s largest biotechnology companies are attempting to force GE crops onto California’s farms. Genetic engineering poses a significant risk to the environment, our food supply and the economic health of farmers.

Alameda, Butte, Humboldt, Marin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Sonoma are among the counties in California currently campaigning to ban cultivation of GE crops. The people behind these campaigns include farmers, gardeners, health professionals, chefs, business owners, teachers, local government officials, and environmentalists. Jill Frandsen, Co-Director of Santa Barbara GE Free says, “SB GE Free is an organization established to get information to consumers, farmers, businesses and organizations concerning genetically modified crops. California is currently the second leading place where experimental test plots are grown.”

The overall risks associated with the cultivation of genetically engineered crops include: 1) exposure to chemicals linked to causes of cancer; 2) the poisoning of the environment through “genetic drift” which poses dire consequences for species such as the Monarch Butterfly as well as organically grown crops; 3) the introduction of novel proteins into the food system which may cause allergic reactions; 4) the creation of “Superweeeds” and “Superbugs” which can withstand applications of the harshest pesticides available; 5) increased levels of toxins in foods; 6) human resistance to antibiotics; 7) reduced nutritional quality of GMO foods; 8) socioeconomic disparity; and 9) worsening world hunger.

According to the True Food Now campaign, “Genetic Engineering (GE) is a radical new technology that manipulates the genes and DNA – the building blocks of all living things. Unlike traditional breeding, genetic engineering creates new life forms that would never occur in nature, creating new and unpredictable health and environmental risks. To create GE crops, genes from bacteria, viruses, plants, animals and even humans have been inserted into plants like soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. Multinational chemical companies like Monsanto have taken our staple crops and altered them in order to patent and profit from them by increasing their chemical and seed sales and gaining control over farmers and the food chain itself. The same companies that brought us DDT, PCBs and Agent Orange now expect us to trust them with our food supply.”

As grassroots activists continue organizing voters to ban the cultivation of GE crops in November, the biotech industry is quietly working behind the scenes to challenge the constitutionality of all the initiatives. When questioned, the industry’s uniform response is that, “Voters shouldn’t trounce farmers’ rights to plant what crops they want.”

The Organic Consumers Association and GMO Free Mendocino are now working together under the banner of the BioDemocracy Alliance to support counties in their work to ban GE agriculture. Banning the cultivation of GE crops in California is an important step in the global movement for sustainable agriculture. Daniel Solnit, a campaign coordinator in Sonoma County says, “The public response has been overwhelmingly positive. This is an issue which crosses all political divisions; everybody wants to protect our farms, our health, and our quality of life.”

For more information, see Californians for GE Free Agriculture.

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This article was published in the August 2004 (.pdf) issue of Fault Lines newspaper.

Author: Bradley Allen

Bradley Allen is a reporter and photographer in the Monterey Bay Area, and a collective member of the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center (Indybay). Follow him on social media: @BradleySA.