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GMO = Get Monsanto Out

Making history, citizens voted this week to keep Mendocino County free of GMOs despite a half-million dollar smear campaign by agribusiness giants.
 
 
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Signaling a turning point in the effort to halt the introduction of GMO crops in the U.S., the citizens of Mendocino county today dramatically approved a countywide measure that prohibits the "propagation, cultivation, raising and growing of genetically modified organisms."

With 98% of the precincts reporting, the final tally was 56.34% for and 43.66% against.

Measure H, which had wide support from county residents, farmers, wineries, business owners, and even the County Sheriff, is the first county wide ban on GE crops in the US. It's is sure to be felt around the nation and world.

CropLife America -- a national lobbying group representing agribusiness giants like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow -- pumped an unprecedented $518,000 into the opposition's smear campaign to defeat the initiative and is expected to attack the measure in court. The proponents of Measure H spent $79,000, raised mostly from small local contributions.

"The County has never seen anything like this campaign. This victory means the people of Mendocino County saw through the bullying of corporations that were trying to undermine the democratic process. These multibillion dollar corporations underestimated our savvy citizenry. Passage of Measure H is just the beginning. We're the first county... but the revolution is just starting," said Els Cooperider, the community leader who spearheaded Measure H and co-owner of the certified all organic Ukiah Brewery.

"This is a great day for local democracy. It's a demonstration of citizens taking control at the most immediate level-which is at home in the places where they live," said Doug Mosel, Yes on H's Campaign Coordinator. "It's an example of local government at it's best, acting to protect it's citizens and the local economy and future generations. In our present climate of corporate domination of the food system this is a reclaiming of responsibility for agriculture at a local level. This amazing local campaign demonstrates where transnational corporations are vulnerable. No amount of money can replace the love and commitment of people who care passionately about the place where they live."

Local vintner Katrina Frey, co-owner of Frey Winery said, "Mendocino County is the first GMO-free county in the nation, and I am sure it will not be the last. There are currently 9 other California Counties considering similar measures. I'm sure this will motivate many other counties nationwide to mount similar efforts."

"This will have a tremendous significance as other states will look at this success as an example. It is a great victory," said Percy Schmeiser, a 73-year-old farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada said tonight. We have seen here in Canada the damage done to the environment, our food, and pure seed stocks. This win is a great thing for it will stem losses suffered by the organic farming community.

Schmeiser is world-renown for his resistance to the legal attacks and harassment by Monsanto. Monsanto accused him of "theft" of its intellectual property rights because traces of its "Roundup Ready" canola were found in Schmeiser's crop. Monsanto's genetically-altered canola, released into the environment, polluted his fields, ruining a lifetime of work breeding his own seed.

Local resident Dr. Marc Lappe, Ph.D., Toxicology and Pathology and noted author, said this evening that this victory has "established the democratic right of people to say that if you have an uncontrolled technology that potentially contaminates an entire ecosystem, it's critical that there is an opportunity for people to speak out on an issue like Measure H.

I'm very proud of Mendocino County, "said Zeke Grader, executive director of Pacific Federation of Fishermen's Association declared "This means a real step forward in protecting the nation's water supply and seafood from increased pesticide contamination caused by GMO's. "It also decreases the threat of Genetically Engineered Fish from being released into the wild population. If this were to happen, they can never be recalled, causing irreparable damage."

Prior to the election, Allan Noe, vice president of CropLife America, a national lobbying organization representing the world's leading biotech agricultural companies, including Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta said, "We don't want to see this pick up any steam...the activist community is well-known for championing causes and for going all out to fuel their beliefs.''

From the start, the measure was a grassroots effort in a sparsely populated county that grows none of the current varieties of biotech plants. Locals say Mendocino County's biggest cash crop is undoubtedly marijuana.

But the county is also home to a number of wineries and vineyards, including Fetzer Vineyards, the largest grower of organic grapes in the nation with plans to produce only organic wines by 2010.

Like a lot of backers of a ban on genetically modified crops, Fetzer President Paul Dolan had declared his worries about future vineyard contamination problems. No commercialized genetically modified grapes are currently on the market, however researchers are experimenting with gene splicing to see if they can protect grapes against various devastating vineyard diseases. "We have concerns for the impact on the quality of wine in general,'' Dolan said. "And secondly, we're concerned with our ability to maintain organic certification.''

In its numerous mailers and radio ads, the corporate-funded opposition campaign never stressed the virtues of biotech crops and other products. Rather, it argued that the measure was poorly written and would be costly for taxpayers to enforce, requiring the county agricultural commissioner to seek out and destroy genetically modified plants.

In Vermont, 70 towns across the state of Vermont passed Town Meeting measures calling for a moratorium on genetically engineered crops.

Earlier this year, The National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a note of caution urging more attention to methods of preventing engineered plants and animals from breeding from their wild relatives. Committee Chairman Kirk said, "Deciding how to confine a genetically engineered organisms cannot be an afterthought." Mendocino County has start that leverage to halt the spread of GMO's before we are able to understand the consequences to our environment.

In February a landmark report by the Union of Concerned Scientists showing that federal regulations have failed to prevent contamination. Their groundbreaking report, "Gone to Seed," documents widespread genetic contamination of corn, soybean and canola seed stock seeds.

It has been estimated that between 60 and 75% of ALL non-organic supermarket processed foods test positive for the presence of genetically engineered ingredients, There is no legislation requiring GE foods to be labeled as such, despite an estimate that between 80-95% of the people want this labeling (most want the labeling so they can avoid GE foods).

Countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and most of Latin America agreed tighter rules governing trade in gene-modified seeds last Friday, February 27th, prompting dismay among major producers such as the United States.

Analysts use many different phrases to describe genetically engineered foods. The biotech industry rarely uses the phrase "genetically engineered foods," sticking with the more bland (and less controversial) phrase "biotech foods."

In Europe, genetically engineered foods are more commonly referred to as genetically modified foods, genetically altered foods or GMOs (short for genetically modified organisms). But scientists generally agree that "genetically engineered" more accurately represents the process than "genetically modified."

Supporters of biotech foods have argued that we have been genetically modifying our foods for centuries, through a process known as hybridization, aka interbreeding. That process is far different than the recombinant DNA splicing used in modern agricultural biotechnology.

Note that the new eleventh edition of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary added the word "Frankenfood" as another term to describe genetically engineered food.

David Kupfer is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Whole Earth, the Progressive, and others.