Voters in four counties can take a step this November to make California a GMO-free zone, by banning genetically modified organisms within county limits. On July 13, supervisors in Humboldt, Butte, San Luis Obispo, and Marin counties voted to put the GMO initiative on their ballots.
“We’re neck-deep in it now,” says Teresa Campbell, who co-coordinates the campaign for San Luis Obispo County. “No one thought we could do it, but we did.” In just over six weeks, volunteers gathered over 12,000 signatures—4,000 more than needed —and after submitting the petition, a 3—2 board vote secured Measure Q a spot on the November ballot.
The four counties are following the lead of Mendocino voters, who last March passed Measure H with 57 percent of the vote, making it the first county in the nation to ban GM crops. The victory represents a success in grassroots campaigning: the committee that put H on the ballot included vineyard owners and organic farmers and was spearheaded by organic brewery owner Els Cooperrider.
Over 8,000 signatures were collected next door in Humboldt County, and a July 16 fundraiser at Benbow Lake State Park featured the popular touring band The String Cheese Incident. The benefit raised over $16,000. “We have had a tremendously positive public response,” reports campaign coordinator Jim Ferguson. “This represents more than ten years of grassroots volunteer work.”
Santa Barbara, Sonoma, and Alameda counties also have active campaigns. Alameda County campaign coordinators have been working with the County Board of Supervisors and aim to have an initiative on the March 2006 ballot. The campaign has been hampered by the first organizer’s need to withdraw, but beyond that, Alameda County will be a tough row to hoe. Says Measure H campaign coordinator Doug Mosel, “They were guided by the realities of organizing and launching a campaign in a very large population center where they cannot be sure of support from what little agriculture they have. This is no easy challenge, and they concluded it makes most sense to take a longer view.”
In San Luis Obispo, volunteers are working on building endorsements. Fetzer Vineyards announced its support for Measure Q (Fetzer also supported H in Mendocino), and Campbell said other wineries are showing interest. Measure Q campaigners will distribute information packets to area grocery stores, farmers, vineyards, teachers, clubs, and schools.
A key point in the anti-GMO movement is the economic advantage of producing GMO-free crops. “Japan has said they will not purchase GMO rice or soy from anywhere in California or the US,” reports Campbell. According to GE-Free Butte County’s website, “countries who are growing crops have lost billions of dollars worth of exports because world markets are closing to GE food.” Campbell says, “People are learning about GM agriculture and realizing that no one wants to feed this stuff to their kids.”