|Mendocino County voters ban biotech crops|
First county in U.S. to bar gene-altered farming
By MIKE GENIELLA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT (Santa Rosa, CA)
Mendocino County voters on Tuesday were the first in the nation to ban
genetically engineered crops and animals.
By a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, they approved Measure H, an
initiative pushed by the county's organic farmers and one that has far
greater symbolic impact than practical effect because such crops are
not likely to be introduced in the county for years.
Some of the nation's largest agricultural interests spent more than a
half-million dollars in a bid to defeat the measure, fearing that it
could become a precedent for other counties.
And that is likely to happen.
"Passage of Measure H is just the beginning. We're the first county,
but the revolution is just starting," said Els Cooperrider, owner of a
Ukiah organic brew pub who spearheaded the campaign.
Groups in Sonoma and Humboldt counties already are preparing drives to
qualify similar initiatives on the November ballot. Allen Henson of the
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center has said passage of Measure H will
give Sonoma County activists incentive to develop a policy to keep out
genetically engineered crops.
Cooperrider and Measure H supporters were jubilant Tuesday night,
especially after having been outspent by a 7-1 margin in the most hotly
contested initiative election in Mendocino County history.
All but two Fort Bragg precincts and about 3,000 absentee ballots,
representing less than 2 percent of the vote, had been counted by 10
The election drew statewide, national and even international attention,
with reporters for major news media outlets on hand to witness the
noisy Measure H victory celebration at the Cooperrider pub.
A consortium of agri-business interests called CropLife America waged a
two-month campaign to defeat the measure. CropLife was joined by local
and state Farm Bureau leaders and members of the county's agricultural
But their high-profile efforts weren't enough.
A coalition of organic grape growers, businesses and local political
figures convinced voters that Mendocino should take a stand in the
global debate over the adequacy of safeguards surrounding a
fast-emerging biotechnology industry. A current void in state law
allowed the issue to be placed before Mendocino voters.
"This is an issue that needs to be dealt with at the state, national or
global level, but you have to start somewhere and that somewhere is
Mendocino County," said Measure H supporter Art Harwood of Harwood
Elizabeth Brazil, coordinator of the campaign to defeat Measure H, said
Tuesday night that opponents were disappointed by the results.
"Mendocino County is going to be harmed by this measure," Brazil said.
Brazil declined to speculate whether local opponents and CropLife are
prepared to mount legal and legislative challenges to Measure H.
Mendocino County voters in the 1970s adopted an initiative to ban
aerial spraying of pesticides, but the state Legislature within two
weeks stripped counties of that right.
Spokeswoman Laura Hamburg said supporters are prepared for any
challenge. "We have had this ordinance reviewed by top lawyers, who say
they're confident it will stand up to any challenge."
You can reach Staff Writer Mike Geniella at 462-6470 or