Anti-GMO ban poised to come again before Sonoma County voters.
On Nov. 8, voters will decide whether to ban raising and growing genetically modified crops in Sonoma County through the Sonoma County Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance sponsored by GMO Free Sonoma County, a campaign of the political action group Citizens for Healthy Farms and Families (CHFF).
Karen Hudson, campaign coordinator for CHFF, explains the thinking behind the measure. “We want to protect our farms, pastures, and cover crops from contamination by genetically engineered pollen drift,” she says. “Tourism and agriculture drive Sonoma County’s economy. We want to protect our families, pollinators, and wildlife from increased spray. Most genetically engineered crops are resistant to pesticides and herbicides. The runoff will also affect our fishing industry.”
CHFF has targeted biotechnology company Monsanto throughout its campaign, calling some of its key products, like Roundup, “awful.” When Monsanto was asked to comment on the 2016 anti-GMO initiative, it referred questions to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), a biotech industry advocacy organization.
Caitlin Kennedy, communications manager for BIO, says that the biotech industry is concerned about an anti-GMO ban’s effect on growers.
“The biggest issue with cultivation bans is that farmers get hit the hardest,” Kennedy says. “GM crops are the most rapidly adopted technology in the history of agriculture because of the enormous benefits they provide to farmers. They should have the right to choose what they grow. The community should support its farmers, not place additional burdens on them.”
Kennedy also dismissed CHFF’s assertion that farms with organic certification would suffer if sited next to farms producing GMO crops.
“Farmers have been coexisting for years and it’s been working,” she says.
Hudson said the new initiative would prohibit raising and growing GMOs in Sonoma County. “That is all it is meant to do,” Hudson says.
In 2005, Measure M, which also also contained anti-GMO language, lost by a 10 percent margin. A key difference between the current initiative and Measure M is the current initiative doesn’t contain language that could be interpreted as prohibiting the distribution of medical vaccines for humans and animals. Measure M did so, which contributed in part to its defeat.
Currently, there are anti-GMO bans in place in Santa Cruz, Marin, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties.
Hudson says now is the right time to revisit GMOs.
“It’s in the news and people are more aware of the issues than they were in the past,” she says. “This will be a good year for voter turnout. There has been very little resistance.”
Albert Straus, founder of Straus Family Creamery, thinks it comes down to increased awareness. “There are not that many GMO crops grown in Sonoma County right now,” he says. “I think [support] has to come from the consumer side, to say, ‘We don’t want this technology in our food supply.’”