Capital Press Agriculture Weekly (Salem, Oregon)  [Printer-friendly version]
June 16, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Santa Cruz county (California) supervisors on
June 20 unanimously adopted on "first reading" a "precautionary
moratorium" on the use of genetically-engineered crops anywhere in
the county. You can listen to the June 20 supervisors' meeting here
and read a hefty set of background documents here. The
"precautionary moratorium" ordinance is scheduled for a final vote by
county supervisors in August. Some other Calfornia counties favor
genetically-modified crops.]

By Ali Bay

Santa Cruz is set to become the fourth California county to ban the
planting and production of genetically modified crops.

Last week the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to develop
an ordinance placing a "precautionary" moratorium on genetically
modified organisms until there is better regulatory oversight, health
testing, labeling requirements and safeguards in place to prevent GMOs
from contaminating other crops.

Although no genetically engineered crops are currently grown in the
county, the ordinance, which will be considered on June 20, concludes
a 10-month effort by the county to study the technology.

A genetic engineering subcommittee, comprised of supervisor
appointees, prepared an extensive report outlining the group's
"critical issues of concern" for genetically engineered foods. The
report cites inadequate regulations of genetically engineered crops,
lack of studies on the health effects of GE foods, absence of labeling
requirements and adequate safeguards to prevent contamination of other
food crops.

"For organic farmers I see (the moratorium) as a victory because they
will not need to be worried about contamination of their crops through
drift or the mixing up of seeds," said Peggy Miars, executive director
of the Santa Cruz-based California Certified Organic Farmers. "Non-
organic farmers who do not want GE cross pollination are in the boat."

Miars said she was amazed at the reaction supervisors gave after
reading the subcommittee's report. They called the conclusions in the
58-page report "frightening" and "shocking."

Although the ordinance has yet to draw any criticism at the Board of
Supervisors meetings, some local farmers and several minority
subcommittee members who helped prepare the county report don't
believe a moratorium is necessary.

"I don't feel it's necessary to call a moratorium on something that is
not happening in the county at this time," said Steve Bontadelli, a
Santa Cruz brussel sprouts grower and subcommittee member. "I kind of
felt that it was a premature reaction to something we may or may not
even be facing."

Still Bontadelli and others who wrote a minority report do agree with
the subcommittee's basic findings that the technology should be
labeled and other safeguards should be in place to help prevent

"There need to be methods, procedures and protocols in place to
prevent that from happening," Bontadelli said.

Three other California counties, Mendocino, Trinity and Marin, have
also passed anti-GMO ordinances, either by a local government
initiative or public vote.

But according to, a statewide biotechnology workgroup
associated with the University of California's Division of
Agricultural and Natural Resources, more than a dozen counties across
the state have either rejected similar ordinances or passed pro-GMO

Voters in Humboldt, Sonoma, Butte and San Luis Obispo counties
rejected ballot measures that would have banned the technology, while
more than 10 counties, many in the Central Valley, have passed
measures that support genetic engineering.

State lawmakers have also jumped into the mix, last year attempting to
pass legislation that would give the state stronger authority to
regulate seeds, effectively voiding the county bans of genetically
engineered seed.

Senate Bill 1056, written by state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, didn't
make its way out of the Legislature last year, but is expected to be
heard again this month by the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

Organizations that have fought the county bans believe farmers and
consumers should have the right to reap the possible benefits of
genetically modified crops.

"More than 70 percent of the processed foods at grocery stores today
have benefited from a science that improves food quality and offers
the promise of medical solutions to life threatening diseases," said
Marko Mlikotin, spokesman for the California Healthy Foods Coalition.
"This is why voters in many counties oppose biotech crops bans. Family
farmers should not be denied access to a science that improves the
quality of life for their consumers."

In Santa Cruz, a moratorium would give consumers a choice to decide
what they want to eat, Miars said, adding that the ban would be
eliminated once labeling and other protections are in place.

"All the consumers I've heard from are supportive, are behind this,"
she said. "People want to have a choice and that's fine. But if you're
going to be selling GE crop, I would say label it so people know and
they have a choice."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Ali Bay is based in
Sacramento. Her e-mail address is

Copyright 2006 Capital Press