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GMO-Free Marin's Impact Goes Beyond County

Report from Marin County on the Future of Food and Democracy in the
21st Century

By Christian Heath - Campaign Co-Coordinator

On November 2, 2004, the people of Marin County voted to protect their
health, environment, local farmers and ranchers by prohibiting the
cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMO's). This will have an
impact within Marin County and also beyond. And I believe it is also
significant from a number of larger perspectives: the U.S., the world,
democracy, and the future.

Local Impact

Measure B is the local ballot initiative that gave Marin County voters
the opportunity to prohibit GMO cultivation in their county. It was
passed into law with a 61% vote of support, after achieving the
endorsements of Marin County's U.S. Representative Lynn Woolsey, the
Marin County Board of Supervisors, the Sierra Club, numerous local
farmers and ranchers, and many others - all of which are listed on the
campaign's website

Measure B applies only to what is cultivated on the land within Marin
County's geography, and does not therefore affect what is imported into
the county. The ban excludes medical research done in a closed and
scientifically controlled environment.

Measure B Protects Marin's Local Farmers and Ranchers. It ensures their
freedom to save their own seeds, and to keep their land free of GMO's so
they can continue to meet the growing demand for safe and healthy food.

Measure B Protects Marin's Health. The last three administrations have
refused to uphold principles of sound science in their policies
regarding biotechnology. Instead they have insisted on a "don't ask and
don't tell "approach and have fought aggressively against testing or labeling
requirements (thus violating even the most basic principles of sound
science). Even after over ten million food items were recalled due to
cases of severe allergic reaction, both the Clinton and Bush
Administrations have refused to conduct any health studies.

Measure B Protects Marin's Environment. Pesticide and chemical use has
increased with the planting of GMO crops and the same companies that
sell GMO seeds own 60% of the global pesticide market.

Because there are currently there are no GMO's being grown in Marin
County, some ask why Measure B is relevant or meaningful, and especially
why it matters NOW in the midst of so many other challenges. Here are a
few of the many reasons:

Without Measure B there could be genetically engineered grasses,
flowers, vegetables, and other products being sold in local hardware
stores, drug stores, and nurseries within 2 years - without any
independent testing or labeling.

Without Measure B consumers would likely buy and plant GMO seeds in
coming years without understanding the implications of this decision.

Once GMO's are released into the environment it would be very difficult
to implement a ban. However it is now practical, cheap and easy to
implement a ban because there are currently no GMO's being cultivated in
the county.
Marin's agricultural commissioner already inspects every shipment that
comes into the county, so he will simply add one more item to his
inspection checklist. No need for extra staff time, bureaucracy, or

Without Measure B, GMO's could be planted without anyone knowing about
it until after they had contaminated neighboring farms. This would put
local farmers and ranchers under the thumb of multinational chemical
corporations such as Monsanto, who have the legal precedent to sue
anyone who cultivates any plant that contains a strand of DNA that they
have patented.

Marin has an agriculture economy of over $50 million annually. Much of
this is grown through sustainable and organic practices that would be
directly threatened by the growth of any GMO's. Therefore Measure B
protects the integrity of our local economy.

Marin is an attractive area for the testing of GMO "pharm" crops - such
as corn that produces a spermicide. Without Measure B this could be done
without anyone even knowing - putting our health and environment at the
mercy of specific multinational chemical companies that have decades
long track records of poisoning people, animals, and the earth.

For a more complete description of the economic, environmental,
cultural, political and other benefits of Measure B please refer to the
campaign website at

Community organizing works. In the end our campaign swayed about 20,000
undecided voters with our outreach and education. We organized
volunteers to achieve direct voter contact through phone calls, flyer
distribution, and public visibility; and by the end of the campaign we
made over 6,000 phone calls, distributed over 22,000 flyers, and held
about 12 public visibility actions.

Larger Significance

The passage of Measure B in Marin County is significant from a number
of larger perspectives - the U.S., the world, democracy, and the future
- for the following four reasons:

1. We live in the United States.

If we look at where GMO crops are being grown from a global
perspective, over 70% of them are being grown in the U.S., with
approximately 25% being grown in Argentina and Canada, and the remaining
few % being grown in various test plots western Europe.

The U.S. is the home of genetic engineering and GMO's. Recombinant DNA
or DNA technology was invented at Stanford University in 1973.

The development of rDNA technology and genetic engineering has been
funded by U.S. governments, state and federal, and also by for-profit

Genetic engineering is part of our culture here in the U.S. - we live
in the belly of the beast as the saying goes.

So Measure B is significant for the world because it is in the United

2. Measure B was Passed in California.

Measure B is part of a statewide strategy in California to reframe the
debate on agriculture, and to proactively make decisions regarding the
future of agriculture in California. This strategy is based on the
following observations.

California is a huge economic power, estimated to be the 5th largest
economy in the world, with an agricultural sector that is enormous.
California's agricultural sector includes fruits, vegetables, flowers,
dairy and meat.

Yet today, less than 1% of crop agriculture in California is GMO
agriculture. The primary GMO's currently on the market are soy, corn,
canola, and cotton - all of which are mainly grown in the mid-west.

Biotech companies intend to genetically engineer every living being,
including commercial flowers, grasses, fruits, vegetables and livestock.

Because California is the home of much production and business in the
areas of flower, grass, fruit, vegetables, and livestock; the direction
that California agriculture develops in is very influential to the rest
of the U.S. and the world. So in California we have a really decisive
choice to make about the future of food.

3. Democracy Needs Voluntary Action

Measure B was passed into law directly by voters. It was only the 2nd
time that voters in the U.S. have decided whether or not they want GMO's
grown on their land. (The 1st time was when Mendocino County passed a
similar law in March 2004 and inspired activists throughout the country,
including those that led the Measure B Campaign.)

Without Measure B in Marin and Measure H in Mendocino there would have
been no public debate or decision making regarding GMO's in these

These are examples of civil society initiating a democratic process -
concrete social action originating in common human values - a democratic
process that would not have taken place without voluntary action in the
cultural sphere.

4. The Future Needs Us

Aside from the particular issue of GMO-Free agriculture, there are
whole host of technologies being developed in the next 5-10 years that
raise serious questions, and present serious challenges to humanity:
Genetic engineering, nanotechnology, robotics, and others make it
possible to manipulate and control human consciousness like never

Where is the social space for an intelligent and informed debate to
take place concerning the impact of these technologies? How will the
decisions be made and who will make the decisions?

Currently it is expected that the government will make the decisions,
and that because we "have a democracy" these decisions will be in the
moral interest of the people they impact.

Yet if we examine what has happened in the case of GMO's we can see
that the government is not in a position to be deciding what kind of
technologies will be developed and used.

In a front page article on January 25, 2001 the New York Times
documented in detail how the policies of the government regarding GMO's
have been exactly as big business lobbied for them to be - i.e.
virtually non-existent. In the early 1990's the decision was made to
regulate GMO's according to the concept of substantial equivalence.
According to this concept bioengineering is not a material fact, and
there is no material difference between bioengineered and
non-bioengineered foods. Therefore there is no need for any testing or
labeling requirements for bioengineered foods. It is obvious that this
policy is in direct contradiction to a decision by a different branch of
the government - the U.S. Patent Office - to issue patents for biotech
foods on the very basis that they are new and unique inventions.

It is clear that in the case of GMO's the government is at the service
of multinational chemical companies such as Monsanto, and is in no way
serving the people of the U.S. It is clear that we can not trust them to
take care of us.

Measure B is an example of people coming together through shared moral
impulses, and initiating democratic processes on that basis.

Measure B is significant because it is an attempt to create a new model
for how we will face the future. This new model is born out of voluntary
participation on the basis of shared human values, ideals, and
individual conscience rather than economic efficiency or political

Christian Heath, Campaign Co-coordinator GMO Free Marin 1000 Sir
Francis Drake Blvd., Suite 18 San Anselmo, CA 94960
tel: 415-454-9898
fax: 415-454-2682