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GMOs on the Ballot

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In March 2004, voters in Mendocino County approved the first county-wide ban in the United States on raising genetically engineered crops and animals (GMOs) despite significant industry spending to defeat the measure. By year’s end, Marin and Trinity Counties joined Mendocino in enacting their own anti-GMO measures, while three counties—two with agricultural interests— defeated similar measures. In all, more than a dozen of California’s 58 counties either voted on or have proposed such measures. Meanwhile, a pro-GMO resolution was passed in Fresno by that county’s board of supervisors.

Gains by the anti-GMO movement are largely symbolic so far, as the counties where anti-GMO measures have passed are not in the Central Valley, where most of California’s genetically engineered crops are grown. But the county-by-county anti-GMO trend could pave the way for a statewide ballot measure. “We have an opportunity here in California to act in a preventative way, because we don’t have that many GE crops yet,” says Renata Brillinger, director of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture, a group that has advised California counties exploring anti-GMO measures. “It’s a chance for California farmers and citizens to make a decision.”

But others believe the state’s anti-GMO organizers are on the fringe of public opinion. “You’ve got a very strong organic community in California, but it’s not necessarily the majority of voters,” says Greg Graff, a postdoctoral research fellow in agricultural and resource economics. “Should they have the right to ban a particular mode of production within the state?”

-Justin Gerdes

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