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California County Bans Planting of Biotech Crops

Date: 04-Mar-04
Country: USA
Author: Carey Gillam

The ban was approved despite strong opposition from biotech companies including Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co., which have successfully defeated similar measures elsewhere around the United States.

"We won! We beat the biotech bullies," Laura Hamburg, spokesperson for the "Yes on Measure H" campaign, said on Wednesday. "The people emerged as victorious. We're sending Monsanto and the rest of the biotech corporate club packing in Mendocino County."

The measure bans the planting of biotech crops and the raising of livestock that have been genetically altered. Supporters said the designation as a biotech-free county should make products grown there more marketable, particularly to Europe where antibiotech sentiment is strong.

Officials with Monsanto and Dupont were not immediately available for comment.

Biotech proponents spent more than $600,000 to defeat the measure, compared to about $80,000 raised by its supporters.

Hamburg said the 80,000 residents in the northern California county, including about 50,000 voters, are closely tied to agriculture and are dedicated to preserving the purity of the vineyards and other agricultural resources there.

"We're part of a growing grass-roots movement of people all over the world standing up to the biotech industry," said Hamburg.

More initiatives are being organized to stop the spread of biotech crops.

Drives similar to Mendocino's effort are being planned in other California counties, and a bill is pending in Vermont that would place a two-year moratorium on planting and growing genetically modified crops.

In North Dakota, where Monsanto is planning to roll out the world's first genetically altered wheat, opponents are renewing efforts to at least temporarily prohibit the biotech crop.

Two years ago, consumer groups in Oregon tried to pass a measure requiring labeling of genetically modified foods, but lost after a coalition of biotech companies, including Monsanto, spent some $5.5 million to kill the initiative.

The vote in California comes amid widespread concerns globally about the genetic modification of crops.

Last week, countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and most of Latin America agreed to tighter rules governing trade in gene-modified seeds, over the opposition of the United States.

The United States has steadfastly defended the spread of biotech crops and has pushed a WTO complaint against the European Union for keeping its borders closed to the altered foods. Last month, the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs launched a Web site dedicated to biotech crop development information.

Biotech crop critics say the government is putting corporate interests ahead of the public interest.

They say the technology has not been fully tested to determine if it will cause health problems or irreversible harm to the environment. They also say it does little to address world hunger and health problems and offers only minimal benefits to some farmers, while contaminating conventional and organic crops.

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