Share The Wealth by Chris Gupta
October 14, 2003

Anti-biotech effort takes root

USA: Anti-biotech effort takes root in Mendocino County, Calif., Ballot

26 September, 2003

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 farmers.

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 researcher.

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.


posted by Chris Gupta on Tuesday October 14 2003
updated on Saturday September 24 2005

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