GENET archive


6-Regulation: Measure M: biotech question has national interest

                                 PART I
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  A food fight
SOURCE: Sonoma West - Times & News, USA, Editorial by Rollie Atkinson
DATE:   12 Oct 2005

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EDITORIAL: A food fight

This is neither an endorsement nor a call for opposition to Measure M,
the Sonoma County ballot initiative that would ban genetically engineered
crops for 10 years.

This is a call for truthful debate. This is an urgent request to voters
to do some thinking for themselves for a change.

Measure M will appear on your Nov. 8 ballot because 45,000 Sonoma County
residents signed petitions to put it there. These neighbors of yours are
concerned about the fast-advancing powers of genetic engineering and
scientific experiments to create new life forms and organisms. Most of
these biotechnical tools are owned by private chemical companies like
Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical. People fear whether these companies
are motivated by higher profits or better science.

At the same time, local dairy, grape and grain farmers fear losing access
to developing farming techniques that might fight crop disease and
increase productivity.

Scientists at UC Davis and elsewhere are working on biotechnical
experiments with tomatoes, strawberries and other crops. Scientists are
trying to invent crops that would be disease and drought resistant. There
are hopes to one day create man-made vaccines and cures for cancer.

In other words, this ballot measure is a little more complicated than a
school district parcel tax.

Many people think such far-reaching issues should be left in the hands of
scientists in their closed-door laboratories. But with that thinking
there would be no clean air laws, endangered species act or federal FDA
food requirements.

The county's Measure M may or may not be a good law but genetic
engineering and all its life-altering possibilities should give everyone
a long pause for thought.

Unfortunately, the public's understanding about genetic engineering will
not be advanced by the pro and con Measure M campaign literature being
sent to mailboxes and placed on billboards.

The exaggeration of fears, name-calling and the false allegations
delivered by the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and the GE Free Sonoma County
organizations are shameful. The fact that this political battle may come
with a $500 million price tag makes it disgusting.

Although fundamental knowledge about a powerful science is needed, voters
will likely close their minds, hold their noses and vote "no" without
knowing what they are voting against - or for.

Sonoma County's natural setting and resources are among the best on this
planet. Our agricultural heritage is rich in diversity based on many
immigrant's dreams and next generations' ingenuity.

Today, Sonoma County is known world-wide for its zinfandels, pinot noirs
and other wines from the Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander valleys.
The modest pursuits of local farmers are sung coast-to-coast about our
Gravensteins, Clo the Cow, goat cheeses, heirloom vegetables, Rocky and
Rosie chickens and other "Sonoma Select" products.

It is too late to ban genetic engineering from our lives and no one is
suggesting that we should or could do this, despite what you read or hear
in the Measure M literature.

The Nov 8 ballot question calls for a 10-year moratorium on growing man-
made crops in Sonoma County.

Another question to ask at another time is, "what crops and foods do we
want to be growing beyond 10 years? How will the world see Sonoma
County's agriculture then? Who will be telling our farmers what to grow
and what seeds to plant?"

                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Measure M: biotech question has national interest
        County voters asked to ban GE crops on Nov. 8
SOURCE: Sonoma West - Times & News, USA, by Rollie Atkinson
DATE:   12 Oct 2005

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Measure M: biotech question has national interest
County voters asked to ban GE crops on Nov. 8

Growing grapes, feeding cows and making up weekly grocery shopping lists
have become political acts. What foods you feed your family and what
seeds you plant in your garden, vineyard or fields are now the subject of
a county-wide ballot initiative.

Sonoma County voters will decide on Nov. 8 whether or not to ban
genetically engineered (GE) crops for the next 10 years. The 10-year
moratorium is supported by organic farmers, environmentalists and by many
purveyors of the "wine country" lifestyle of artisan cheeses, vegetables,
olive oils, wines and breads.

Opposition to Measure M is being led by the muscular Sonoma County Farm
Bureau. Local ag leaders want the right to grow new crops and employ
developing biotechnology in the near future.

Today, there are almost no genetic engineered crops or farming techniques
in Sonoma County. Measure M is about a fast-approaching future. It is not
written to solve any current problem.

Measure M qualified for the Nov. 8 ballot after 45,000 signatures were
collected in a petition drive. The argument was written by Dave Henson,
executive director of the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center (OAEC), an 80-
acre preserve and experimental farm.

Measure M would prohibit the "raising, growing, propagation, cultivation,
sale, or distribution" of genetically engineered organisms. However, the
ordinance would allow the purchase and distribution of human and animal
feeds and medicines based on the GE technology, so long as it is not
grown or manufactured in the county. Measure M would not outlaw
government-approved biotechnology research under defined safety measures
that would protect the open environment.

Trinity, Marin and Mendocino county voters have passed GE crop bans,
while Butte, Humboldt and San Luis Obispo county voters opposed similar
bans. Sacramento, Yolo, Nevada and Placer county voters may be asked to
ban GE crops next.

There is statewide and national interest in how Sonoma County voters will
vote on Measure M this Nov. 8.

Agricultural biotechnology is the science of transferring genes between
species. The widest use now is where crops such as corn, canola and
soybeans have been altered to be resistant to weed-killing sprays and
actually create new strains of plants that can kill insects.

A small amount of acreage of corn based on GE technology is grown in
Sonoma County. The Roundup Ready corn, patented by Monsanto chemical
corporation, allows a farmer to more readily spray the herbicide to
control weeds without harming his corn crop.

Some dairy farmers import GE-based feeds and no genetically-modified
organisms (GMOs) are used in Sonoma County's $2 billion winegrape industry.

Some Sonoma County grapegrowers say the promise of biotechnology may one
day defeat the bacteria called Pierce's Disease, spread by the glassy-
winged sharpshooter bug that kills vines.

Dairy farmers and others do not want to be cut off from promising new GE-
based feeds and animal vaccines.

Voters are being confronted with the very technical language of molecular
biology and a politically-charged "food fight" between giant agri-
chemical companies and environmentalists.

Locally, the battle lines have been drawn between two familiar camps that
last faced off in 1999 over the Rural Heritage Initiative.

Among the very few things both sides agree upon is that GE crops for
Sonoma County's grape, dairy and farm industries are still years away.

"We debated the timing but (we) decided there was too much at stake to
wait," said Henson. "GE is an inevitable trend and we need to secure our
food and seed now. We don't want to be the Guinea pigs of these corporations."

Henson said the Measure M supporters, led by GE Free Sonoma County is not
"anti-GE" and supports ongoing basic biotechnology research.

GE Free supporters fear the accidental release of GE plants that would
mutate into "super-weeds" and contaminate food supplies and the natural

Nick Frey, executive director of the Sonoma County Grape Growers
Association (SCGGA) says Measure M is "flawed public policy."

"We don't have the scientific expertise at our local level," said Frey.
"We question the need for this. It is a non-funded mechanism that is also
becoming a very expensive campaign fight."

The SCCGA board of directors voted unanimously to oppose Measure M, while
acknowledging some SCCGA members will support the GE ban.

Much of the Measure M campaign literature from both sides is fueling the
"farmer versus environmentalist" divide.

"It's a violent insult" for the Farm Bureau to claim family farmers are
united against Measure M, said Henson while showing off a list of more
than 100 farmers and growers who have endorsed Measure M.

"We have more in common than we have differences," laments Frey. "We
shouldn't be fighting each other. We have some important work we should
be doing together but we can't work on a common ground while there is so
much noise in the system."

                                 PART III
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Expensive war of words getting fierce
        More than $500 million raised by competing Measure M campaigners
SOURCE: Sonoma West - Times & News, USA, by Kerrie Russell
DATE:   12 Oct 2005

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Expensive war of words getting fierce

In the battle over passage of a ban on genetically modified organisms,
campaigns on both sides of the issue have raised a staggering amount of
money with less than four weeks remaining until the Nov. 8 Election Day.

With totals in monetary contributions reaching $273,957 for GE-Free
Sonoma County and $271,844 for the Family Farmers Alliance, the campaigns
for and against Measure M are embroiled in a fundraising frenzy, which is
expected to bring campaign spending to new heights.

"It costs so much to educate the voters," said Rob Muelrath, the campaign
consultant for the Family Farmers Alliance. Muelrath estimated that it
costs the campaign 65 cents per piece of mail, including graphics,
printing and postage to reach voters who are likely to turn out on
Election Day.

Dave Henson, Director of the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center said the
GE-Free campaign has concentrated its spending on "grassroots campaigning
- knocking on doors and handing out literature."

The largest contributors for each campaign are also the campaign's
sponsors. GE-Free Sonoma County, has accepted more than $208,598 from the
Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, 76 percent of the total contributions
for their campaign. In the most recent FPPC (Fair Political Practices
Commission) filing statement period from July 1 through Sept. 24., the
Occidental Arts & Ecology Center contributed $88,885.

According Henson, in 2004 the OAEC prioritized this initiative. "We
budgeted a fair amount of our income for the campaign," he said.

Henson said that although the OAEC is a non-profit organization,
according to the IRS, they may contribute up to 20 percent of their
annual expenses to campaigns. "We are well within the limit. We're
obviously keeping a close eye on that," he said.

The Family Farmers Alliance, in opposition to Measure M, is sponsored by
the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, which contributed $25,000 during the most
recent filing period, bringing their cumulative total to $50,713.

Aside from the major sponsors, each side has received significant
campaign contributions from individual farmers and vineyard owners,
further demonstrating the deep divide the measure has brought to the
agricultural community.

In the most recent filing period, GE-Free Sonoma County received $118,352
in campaign contributions from 21 individuals or organizations, including
the $88,885 from Occidental Arts & Ecology; $20,000 from Mark and
Patricia Squire, owners of Good Earth Natural Foods in Marin County;
$1,000 from Paula Downing, manager of the Santa Rosa and Sebastopol
Farmers Markets; and $100 donations from Preston Vineyards and Winery in
Healdsburg and Eric Larson, a senior biologist for the California
Department of Fish and Game, among others.

The Family Farmers Alliance received donations from more than six times
the number of individuals and organizations contributing to the GE-Free
campaign. They raised $135,435 from July through September from 139
individuals or organizations including the $25,000 from the Sonoma County
Farm Bureau and $10,000 from four Political Action Committees. Nineteen
percent of contributions accepted by the Family Farmers Alliance have
been from outside of Sonoma County.

Muelrath said the Family Farmers Alliance have initiated a phone calling
campaign to raise money. "We have farmers like Mike Strunk and Steve
Dutton who are dialing for dollars," Muelrath said. They have also hired
an independent fundraiser who is organizing the phone drive.

Spending from both sides during the summer months hovered around the
$100,000 mark, but Henson contends that the FPPC report submitted by the
Family Farmers Alliance is "grossly inaccurate. They aren't reporting all
of their expenses." Henson said that time and money spent by the Sonoma
County Farm Bureau is not being reported to the FPPC.

Muelrath said the staff at the Farm Bureau has recently turned in their
hours, and the Family Farmers Alliance has submitted an amendment, which
notes in-kind contributions of $7,200 worth of time spent on the
campaign, plus $100 per month on phone and office expenses. "This is so
little. _Everything is accurate and concise. The proof is in our
reporting," Muelrath said.

Muelrath also questioned the OAEC's contributions to the GE-Free
campaign. "Where is that money coming from?" Muelrath asked. "You gotta
wonder: What are they trying to hide?"

                                 PART IV
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Genetic confusion
        More than $500 million raised by competing Measure M campaigners
SOURCE: Sonoma West - Times & News, USA, Open Space by Guy Wilson
DATE:   12 Oct 2005

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Open Space: Genetic confusion

With the election less than four weeks away, there is still a lot of
confusion over Measure M. The voters will soon decide whether genetically
engineered (GE) organisms may be grown, sold, or distributed in Sonoma
County over the next 10 years.

The first level of confusion arises from the fact that a yes vote on
Measure M is effectively a no vote on the use of GE organisms in the
county, whereas a no vote is effectively a yes vote to allow the
continued use of GE organisms. One must at least read the ballot
carefully to avoid counter-intuitive results.

The next, and much deeper, level of confusion arises from the general
lack of public awareness of what GE technology is all about. Genetically
modified organisms (GMO's), which are produced by GE technology, are a
very recent presence on earth, so the lack of public awareness is not
surprising. Were it not for citizen initiatives like Measure M, the
environmental and human health implications of GMO's would probably go
unexamined and unmonitored indefinitely - the government has apparently
done nothing to establish regulatory oversight or issue findings
concerning the public health aspect of GMO's.

So what, exactly, are GMO's? It is difficult to answer this question on a
non-technical and non-judgmental basis. GMO's have been developed in
research laboratories funded by major agricultural business interests.
The products of this research are "seeds" combining genetic attributes of
different organisms that would not exist together in the same life form
in the natural world. The word "seeds" in this context must be used
advisedly, since GMO seeds are not borne by trees or plants, but are
entirely the product of laboratory techniques.

Supporters of GE technology argue that GMO products are superior to the
plants that have been found in nature since the beginning of time. The
perceived benefits of GE technology are all in the eye - and the wallet -
of the beholder, of course. For example, "Roundup Ready" beans have been
grown from GMO's that are resistant to the commercial pesticide Roundup.
Thus, a farmer can apply Roundup to kill weeds without fear of killing
the crop itself. This leads to a greater crop yield and short-term
profits for the grower, but all at an arguably greater price in public health.

There are profound questions that pervade the very premise of GE
technology. What effect will GMO's have on naturally occurring plants?
And what effect will there be on those creatures higher up the food chain
- human beings - who ultimately will ingest and absorb the altered
genetic matter introduced into the environment by GMO's?

What are we getting into here? No one really knows.

Depending on one's point of view, GMO's are either a miracle product or
weird science. Are we creating a brave new world with a more abundant
food supply, or are we releasing an irreversible and potentially
catastrophic process of cellular contamination? The truth may lie
somewhere in between, but, again, we don't know. The ten-year moratorium
on GMO's that would be imposed by Measure M would allow time to gather

Media coverage of the Measure M campaign has focused, logically enough,
on the divisions within the local farming community over GMO's. This is
an interesting story of both culture and agriculture, but it encourages
the false assumption that the voting public should take its cues from
farmers - agribusiness, really - in deciding this critically important
issue, which transcends the industry in which it originates. I love
farmers as much as the next guy, but there's much more at stake here than
hurting the feelings of professional growers.

- Guy Wilson is a Sebastopol resident.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
In den Steinäckern 13
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
M: +49-162-1054755
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