Article published in the West County Gazette, Sept.
Crops: Who Profits, Who Pays the Price?
By Patricia Dines
(c) Patricia Dines, 2005. All rights reserved.
This Nov. 8, Sonoma County voters will have the opportunity to place a local 10-year ban on Genetically-Engineered (GE) crops (aka Genetically-Modified (GM) crops). How we vote will significantly impact our well-being, locally and beyond, for years to come.
In the August Gazette, I described the serious threats of GEOs (GE Organisms, aka GMOs) to our local farms, ecosystems, health, and economy. This article is at <GEFree2.html>.
Seeing these problems, a local broad-based coalition sought to protect our community from involuntary and irreversible GE contamination and liability &endash; before it happens. Thus, the Sonoma County GE-Free Initiative (Measure M) was born.
Initiative Opponent's Claims & the Facts
By now, you've likely read opponent's attacks on Measure M. Unfortunately, instead of a reasoned fact-based debate, initiative opponents are using fear tactics, emotional hot buttons, and, sadly, lies. They clearly assume that voters won't look any deeper. Let's prove them wrong!
Here are some key opponent claims and the facts, for you to inform yourself and others. You can help get the truth out!
(1) OPPONENT CLAIM: "Family Farmers United Against GMO Ban"
FACTS: Signs with this slogan have been placed around county by the Family Farmers Alliance (FFA), a newly-formed committee of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau (SCFB). However, this claim is not supported by the facts. Since the SCFB didn't poll their members, they can't even say that their organization is united (I know of members who support the initiative). Plus many farmers don't belong to the SCFB, often because they see the national FB as aligned with big agribusiness at the expense of acting for the interests of small farmers. Therefore, I and others see this slogan as an unsupported partisan claim made by GE industry allies trying to falsely put the face of family farmers on this problematic technology, and inaccurately creating the impression that this is farmers against environmentalists, which it is not.
CONCLUSION: The truth is that well over 100 family farmers in this county (and many others) have endorsed Measure M. Key supporters include California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), which has acted for family farmers for 30 years! Farmers who investigate this themselves find that they're actually hurt by GE crops &endash; through crop contamination, lost markets for GE-Free food, reduced yields and failed crops, the end of seed saving, vulnerability to Monsanto lawsuits (for having patented seeds on their land), and liability for the harm and cleanup of these experimental organisms. The primary beneficiary of GEOs are the manufacturing corporations.
(2) CLAIM: FFA literature asserts, "The initiative would prohibit the use of critical life-saving [GE] vaccines and treatments, some already used and others being developed. Local residents may be forced to seek medical treatments in other counties or states. The prohibition of existing GMO vaccines for West Nile Virus, rabies, ... etc. would place pet health in serious jeopardy and increase the risk of an uncontrollable public health pandemic."
FACTS: Are you scared yet? Well, not to worry. Dave Henson, initiative co-author, says that NO current medicines, for humans or animals, are forbidden by the initiative. The initiative only prohibits the release into the environment of live GEOs that can reproduce and transmit GE traits to successive generations. The campaign knows of no current medicines with these characteristics, or even if they'd be approved, because of their health risk. The initiative's focus is crops, and only mentions medicine to specifically allow GE medical research, in controlled situations. And, if some future GE medicine (or crop) is truly needed, County supervisors can make exemptions to the ordinance.
CONCLUSION: The real threat to our health is the uncontrolled, involuntary, and irreversible GE contamination of our food, health, farms, and ecosystems, without health and environmental testing or controls.
(3) CLAIM: FFA literature says, "According to a County staff report on the initiative, policing this ordinance will cost millions of dollars."
FACTS: Although this claim is trumpeted widely, FFA doesn't explain their math. It seems related to a County estimate that enforcement might cost $250,000 a year. However, the initiative campaign says that even this figure is wildly high, because no staff enforcement time is involved unless they receive a complaint. Similar ordinances in Mendocino and Marin Counties have not yet had any enforcement costs. Also, these costs wouldn't be paid by taxpayers but by violators.
CONCLUSION: Measure M will cost taxpayers little or nothing. However, GE contamination with this highly-risky technology would be very costly to our health, farms, ecosystems, and economy. Who will compensate farmers who lose access to organic or GE-Free markets, or our community for irreversible GE pollution? Increasingly, consumers and communities worldwide are rejecting the GE experiment and insisting on GE-Free foods. By supporting this initiative, we increase all farmers' access to GE-Free markets, protect our organic farms, and avoid the unlimited costs and liabilities of GEOs.
(4) CLAIM: FFA says that the initiative would prohibit a grower's "choice" to plant GE crops.
FACTS: Hey, I'm a big fan of choice. Unfortunately, studies have shown that GE crops will infiltrate the local ecosystem and farmland; co-existence is impossible. Thus, a grower's "choice" to plant GE crops forces everyone else to be exposed to this risky unproven technology &endash; taking away our choice to have GE-Free crops, farmland, wild areas, animals, bodies, etc.!
CONCLUSION: This initiative stands for our community's right to choose not to be exposed to this dangerous technology. Imposing the GE experiment on the many to (perhaps) benefit a few is neither fair nor beneficial to the community.
(5) CLAIM: FFA calls the initiative "poorly-written."
FACTS: Apparently, this complaint is commonly trotted out against community actions. However, the truth is that great care was taken by initiative authors to learn from prior initiatives, talk with local stakeholders, and incorporate language that reflected their needs and concerns. CAFF gives this as a key reason that this is the first GE-Free Zone that they've supported.
CONCLUSION: Measure M has been complimented for being well-written.
With this claim, and overall, I'm distressed by the SCFB's approach. If they disagree with the ordinance's goals and content, fine, let's discuss that. But these inaccurate claims, vague denigrations, and outright falsehoods damage voters' democratic right to be informed in choosing our future.
Deciding How To Vote
When deciding how to vote on Measure M, remember that the FB is an agribusiness-aligned GEO proponent, not the voice of county farmers. Don't accept their assertions as truth without checking with the initiative folks. And be aware that GE has largely failed to deliver on its grand promises; for instance, net pesticide use has actually increased on GE-planted land!
Measure M's purpose is simple: to take a "time out" before our community is involuntarily and irreversibly contaminated with GEOs, and thus prevent the health, economic, and ecological harm of this highly-risky technology. We can only take this stand now, before the pollution happens. Personally, I'm grateful that local community members have given us this opportunity to stand up to the GEO steamroller that's threatening the DNA basis of all life on this planet. We as a community have the right to say, "Hold on! Let's think ahead before letting GEOs irreversibly pollute our local ecosystem, farms, backyards, and wild areas."
To learn more about the compelling reasons that this initiative was created, attend a free showing of "The Future of Food" -- and bring your friends! You'll feel informed and empowered to act. For more information, see <www.GEFreeSonoma.org>.
Patricia Dines is author of The Organic Guide to Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties, which makes it easy to find and support local organics. The Guide includes more about GE-Free Zones -- with footnotes! For more information, see <www.healthyworld.org>.
Read CAFF's letter in support of GE-Free Sonoma County
Return to CAP's main GE-Free Sonoma County page
This entire website is (c) Patricia
Dines, 1998-2007. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 04/05/07