Sacremento Bee
November 09, 2005


By Dale Kasler

In a win for the biotechnology industry, Sonoma County voters were
soundly rejecting a proposed ban on genetically modified crops

Measure M, which pitted traditional growers against organic farmers in
a fight that drew national attention, was losing with only 43 percent
in favor, with about 73 percent of precincts reporting.

"It's a victory for agriculture as well as biotech, the entire biotech
community," said Lex McCorvey, executive director of the Sonoma County
Farm Bureau.

Measure M's campaign coordinator, Daniel Solnit, said his side lost in
part because opponents duped voters into thinking the measure would
also ban biotech drugs.

Measure M supporters said banning biotech crops for 10 years in Sonoma
County represented a reasonable response to the spread of genetically
modified foods. The moratorium was based on Europe's so-called
"Precautionary Principle," which says a new technology must be proved
safe before it can be deployed.

They also argued that biotech's controversial image could wreck a
county that's dependent on farm-related tourism.

But traditional farmers said Measure M would elevate fear above
science and deprive them of tools necessary to improve the county's
two big agricultural industries -- the $309 million wine-grape business
and the $100 million dairy industry. For instance, some grape growers
argued that a ban on genetic engineering could hinder efforts to
resist Pierce's disease, the insect-borne malady afflicting grape
vines throughout much of California.

Sonoma became the latest California county to debate the merits of
biotech crops. Marin, Mendocino and Trinity counties have banned
biotech agriculture, although Butte, Humboldt and San Luis Obispo
rejected bans.

Many farm-heavy San Joaquin Valley counties also have adopted
resolutions endorsing biotechnology.

The Sonoma vote came after a lengthy campaign in which biotechnology
supporters, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, outspent
Measure M sponsors by $420,000 to $390,000.

The Bee's Dale Kasler can be reached at (916) 321-1066 or

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