Organic Consumers Association

Mendocino County California Seeks to Become GMO-Free Zone



Allen and Els Cooperrider: (707) 467-9088
GMO Petition Drive: (707) 467-3770

By Laura Hamburg (

Just like nuclear-free zones giving communities the right to reject plutonium transportation within the city limits, farmers and local families want Mendocino County to be the nation's first GMO-free zone.

A new initiative now gathering signatures for next year's local election poses the question: "Shall the people of Mendocino County prohibit the propagation, cultivation, raising and growing of genetically modified organisms in Mendocino County?"

If local voters like the idea, all crops grown within the county would be GMO-Free. People could still buy GMO-containing food products at local stores.

"Why should biotech corporations control our local food supply?" said Els Cooperrider, an owner of the all-organic Ukiah Brewing Company & Restaurant, who helped launch the initiative. "As just one example, farmers using genetically modified seeds are forbidden to save those seeds for the following year, even though they grew them. Instead, they must buy new seed- or risk arrest," she said. "It's outrageous."

Cooperrider is also the co-founder of the Mendocino Organic Network (MON), a group of local citizens and farmers who spearheaded the initiative and created a local "eco-label" for organic small farmers and businesses called "Mendocino Renegade." The Renegade label has strict organic standards, free from government and political pressure. As part of a peer review, local certified organic farmers are in charge of inspections, not the government.

Together with MON, local organic farmers have joined the efforts to pass the initiative and put Mendocino on the map as the most organic county in the nation. The initiative has the unanimous endorsement of the Mendo-Lake Chapter of the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). The hope is a GMO-Free Mendocino, coupled with a reputation as an organically focused growing region that will benefit the local economy, drive tourism and promote the health of local residents.

In addition, vintners from some of Mendocino County's largest wine producers have lined up to support the initiative. They include Fetzer Vinyards' Paul Dolan, Jeriko's Danny Fetzer, Barra Vinyards' Charlie Barra, Frey Vinyards' Katrina Frey, and Jim Fetzer from Ceago Vinyards.

Organic vintners support the measure in part because they are concerned that crops grown using GMO's will contaminate their vines and cause irreversible harm to the county's expanding organic wine market. Wind and insect-borne GMO pollen can cross-pollinate with natural grapevines and threaten the viability of both organic and conventional grapes - making the wine unmarketable in Europe.

GMO's are man-made organisms, whose native, intrinsic DNA has been intentionally altered. For example, canned salmon currently on the shelves in grocery stores contains both human and chicken DNA.

The problem is consumers don't know which brand of canned salmon. Like thousands of other food products containing genetically engineered organisms, the salmon isn't labeled - and won't be if the government has its way. So far, the US FDA and biotech corporations like Monsanto have successfully squelched grassroots efforts to force the U.S. to label GMO's.

"Monsanto just goes along putting more GMO's on the market," said Els Cooperrider. "But they can be stopped if we have laws in our counties that forbid the planning of GMO's," she said. "We're saying 'not in our backyard, not in our county.'"

After enough qualifying signatures are collected, the GMO-Free initiative is slated to run on the 2004 ballot.



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