Organic Consumers Association

Anti-GE Ballot Initiative in Mendocino County CA Takes Root

From <> 10/2/03


26 September

A campaign to make Mendocino County the first in the United States to ban GM
crops is brewing inside a century-old building in downtown Ukiah where
organic brew pub owners Allen and Els Cooperrider are collecting signatures
for an initiative they hope will resonate in a region known for alternative

Their goals are both local and global -- preventing genetic contamination of
Mendocino County's robust organic produce industry and defying the seemingly
unstoppable worldwide spread of genetically engineered crops.

"What we know so far from genetically engineered crops is that they create
more problems than they solve," said Els Cooperrider, 58, a retired medical

Already, similar efforts are taking root in neighboring counties, drawing
Northern California deeper into the international debate about the benefits
and dangers of crops engineered to resist pests or withstand herbicides.

The Mendocino movement -- aimed at the March ballot -- likely will draw
opposition from the biotechnology industry, which doesn't want crop bans to
get a foothold in the nation's largest farm state.

The movement is not entirely surprising in a county that has long attracted
free thinkers, that now boasts the second-largest Green Party registration
in the state, behind neighboring Humboldt County.

The Mendocino Organic Network, a loose-knit group the Cooperriders belong
to, reports it has 3,100 of the 4,000 signatures it set as its goal. To
qualify for the March ballot, the network had to file 2,579 valid signatures
by last Wednesday.

If the current effort falls short, the organic network will target next
fall's ballot. "We plan to win," said Allen Cooperrider, a retired federal
agency biologist.

Among those behind the Mendocino movement is Marc Lappé, director of the
Center for Ethics and Toxics in Gualala and co-author of failed California
legislation in 2000 that would have required labeling of genetically
engineered foods.

Lappe described opposition to his bill as an "incredible deluge." He
predicted that if the Mendocino initiative makes it to the ballot, it will
pass. "If it does so," he said, "it's going to rock the establishment."

California's food crops remain mostly free of biotechnology, in part because
biotech companies have focused on more Midwest-friendly field crops, such as
corn and soybeans. Only a few modified fruits and vegetables -- papayas,
cantaloupe and squash -- have been commercially released.

However, California is among the most popular places for biotech field
trials and a hotbed of companies trying to genetically manufacture
pharmaceuticals in plants.

The California Farm Bureau Federation backs biotechnology as a way to
"improve the quality and marketability of our products and to solve
environmental concerns," according to its 2003 policy handbook.

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