GENET archive


6-Regulation: GMO-ban campaigns already gearing up Sonoma (USA)

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GMO-ban campaigns already gearing up
SOURCE: The Press Democrat, USA, by Bleys W. Rose
DATE:   6 Sep 2005

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GMO-ban campaigns already gearing up
Hot-button ballot measure likely to be most expensive in Sonoma County history

Most expensive Sonoma County issue campaigns:

$900,000: Rural Heritage Initiative
Supported by environmentalists; opposed by real estate interests and
Failed in November 2000.

$890,000: Sales tax to widen Highway 101.
Backed by a business and labor coalition; little organized opposition
Failed to get two-thirds approval in March 2000.

$690,000: Big-box battle in Cotati.
Yardbirds fought to keep out Lowe's home improvement store.
Failed in two elections, 2003 and 2004.

Campaigns on either side of November's ballot measure that would prohibit
genetically altered crops didn't wait until the traditional start of the
political season on Labor Day weekend.

Already, they have raised about $400,000 for the fight over a ballot
measure likely to end up as the most expensive campaign in Sonoma County

The issue pits environmentalists concerned about the future contents of
food and animal feed against farmers facing realities of agribusiness
research and development.

While both sides agree the measure's immediate impact likely would apply
only to a handful of farmers growing corn to feed their livestock, they
are looking to the long-range implications of the molecular re-
engineering of crops.

Rival campaign signs on Measure M are up and Web sites are linking to
research studies and position papers. Anti "GE" stickers are sprouting on
car bumpers and a radio ad campaign was launched by opponents over the summer.

And campaign leaders for and against Measure M have been facing off at
more than two dozen community forums and civic group sessions.

A forum in Sebastopol last week, for example, attracted several dozen
people who heard three hours' worth of debate, much of it centered on the
science of crop growing and livestock feeding.

Although Sebastopol would seem to be a center of environmental activism
supporting a moratorium on genetically engineered organisms, there was
skepticism from some in the audience, including the half-dozen teens
wearing their blue Future Farmers of America jackets.

"I am confused about the facts and the science," one woman told dueling
speakers after hearing them quarrel for two hours at the Sebastopol Teen
Center. "I am a gardener and I still don't understand. Please get out a
fact sheet, both of you."

Over the next two months, neither side will lack for scientific opinion
and research to buttress their viewpoints.

The Family Farmers Alliance, a group of farmers and ranchers, says
federal agencies have found no harm from genetically modified organisms
used in growing crops. And banning them in Sonoma County would be
impractical, expensive and detrimental to local farmers, the alliance says.

"Sonoma County would be isolating itself from the most modern methods in
agriculture," said Mike Strunk, owner of Sebastopol's Park Avenue Turf
and a spokesman for the anti-Measure M campaign. "Genetic engineering is
working to get rid of diseases. Why deny local farmers use of it?"

For example, if a biotech solution for Pierce's disease, which can
devastate vineyard rootstock, was found, would a GMO ban prevent growers
here from using it?

The side favoring Measure M, led by GE-Free Sonoma County, says there's
mounting evidence that GMOs are harmful, are easily spread and could
damage county agriculture. The group says more definitive research is
needed over the span of a 10-year moratorium.

"Genetic engineering is not going to kill you, but the basic research has
not been done" said Dave Henson, executive director of Occidental Arts
and Ecology Center and Measure M author. "It is reasonable, prudent and
necessary for Sonoma County to have a moratorium."

The center, a nonprofit environmental education group and 80-acre organic
farm in the west county, is the prime funder of the GE-Free campaign.

The Sonoma County Farm Bureau is the major benefactor of the Family
Farmers Alliance, with additional major contributions from ranchers,
farmers, wineries and agricultural products companies.

"If they raised that much money and raised it that soon, it'll top a
million," said Herb Williams, a veteran political consultant who isn't on
either campaign's payroll. "It is shaping up with the same themes as the
Rural Heritage Initiative, just more money because the agriculture
community is going to be there in spades."

Voters turned down the 2000 initiative that pitted environmental groups
against real estate and building interests. Combined, the two sides spent
nearly $900,000.

Both sides in the Measure M debate say there's little doubt that will be

GE-Free activists predict their coffers will be dwarfed by donations and
support to Measure M opponents from industry groups representing
pesticide manufacturers, biotech companies and farmers organizations.
They predict companies like Monsanto, the world's leading developer of
agricultural biotechnology based in St. Louis, will not be able to resist
being involved.

But officials in the Family Farmers Alliance say they won't take big
money from big agriculture.

"They infer we are lackeys for Monsanto. We are not going to do that.
That is how Mendocino lost," said Lex McCorvey, executive director of the
Sonoma County Farm Bureau, a leading farmers alliance supporter.

In March 2004, Mendocino became the first county in the nation to ban
bio-crops after a contentious $800,000 campaign in which proponents were
outspent 7-to-1.

CropLife America, a Washington-based consortium of biotech crop producers
that includes Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience,
contributed all but about $25,000 of the opposition's $700,000 war chest.

Since that time, similar GMO bans have been approved by supervisors in
Trinity County and a public vote in Marin County, but defeated in
Humboldt, San Luis Obispo and Butte counties.

At the moment, officials with CropLife America and the Biotechnology
Industry Organization, which represents 500 companies, say they are
staying on the sidelines of the Sonoma County measure, albeit with well-
focused binoculars from Washington.

"We are watching it," said Lisa Dry, communications director of the
Biotechnology Industry Organization. "We are willing to help the local
farm bureau if they need expertise.

"We have not been asked to make any financial donations. When farmers get
very engaged in this issue, they have defeated these measures without us."

Likewise, CropLife America is watching, but maintaining its distance.

"I don't know if CropLife is going to be there," said CropLife
communications director George Clarke. "We were involved in Mendocino,
but probably not to the same degree in Sonoma."

So far, campaign funding has largely come from local interests. Another
campaign report is due Sept. 29.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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

P: +49-531-5168746
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