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Biotech lobbying group challenges GMO-free Mendocino ballot measure language

(Saturday, Dec. 27, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- From a Dec. 22 news release:

Contact: Laura Hamburg/cell phone: 707 621-0906, laura@bullhornrag.com

California's largest consortium of biotechnology and agri-chemical corporations has launched a lawsuit against the local effort to make Mendocino County the first county in the nation to ban the growing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The group behind the lawsuit -- filed Friday, Dec. 19 -- is the California Plant Health Association (CPHA). It represents some of the biggest names in GMO production and the world's leading producers of herbicides and pesticides including Monsanto Corporation, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer Corporation, Helena Chemical Company and DuPont.

'These are some of the same industry giants, armed with high-powered law firms and vast resources, that have successfully squelched recent grassroots attempts around the nation aimed at resisting the spread of GMO crops and food products,' said Els Cooperrider, a former university scientist and a local owner of the Ukiah Brewing Co. & Restaurant. "This is Mendocino County vs. hundreds of corporations."

Last year, Monsanto Corporation and its biotech allies pumped more than $6 million into a campaign to defeat an Oregon ballot measure to label genetically modified foods.

Now Monsanto and dozens of other agri-business and biotech corporations belonging to the CPHA are targeting Mendocino County. Pest management consultant Peter Chevalier, a member of the industry group and a local pear farmer, is named as the lawsuit plaintiff. Chevalier referred all questions regarding the lawsuit to the Sacramento-based industry lobbying group.

The CPHA umbrella group is suing to prevent key arguments in favor of a local ban on the growing of GMOs from being printed in the Mendocino County election ballot pamphlet. The ballot was scheduled to go to press as early as this week in preparation for the March election on Measure H - the voter-led initiative for a "GMO Free Mendocino."

Named in the lawsuit are Mendocino County Clerk Marsha Wharff and the three County residents who signed on as proponents of the Measure H ballot language: Els Cooperrider, Janie Sheppard, a local attorney and Dr. Ron Epstein, a research professor.

"This is the first salvo in a David and Goliath struggle, in which Measure H - which will benefit the people and the environment of Mendocino County - is under attack by unprincipled multinational corporations that care only for their own profits," Epstein said. "They have no qualms about subverting the democratic process."

A court hearing is scheduled Wednesday, Dec. 24th at 11:15 a.m. in courtroom E of the Mendocino County Court House. The hearing will determine whether the consortium of biotech and agri-business corporations can legally prevent Mendocino County voters from reading the full, proposed ballot language in support of Measure H.

"Regardless of how you feel about GMOs, this is a local issue that should be decided by local people," said Redwood Valley farmer Tim Buckner. "And not by a national lobbying organization representing the likes of Monsanto and DuPont. If they want to start suing people, then they are going to have to sue all 4,000 residents who signed the initiative and all the people who will vote for this," Buckner said.

If approved by voters, Measure H will prohibit the "propagation, cultivation, raising and growing of genetically modified organisms in Mendocino County." It is not a labeling law. And Measure H does not affect food products found in the aisles of grocery stores or livestock feed.

The initiative has drawn the support of local farmers, physicians such as Dr. Marvin Trotter, and families concerned about the unknown health risks of GMOs.

In addition, some of the County's leading grape growers - both organic and conventional, endorse the measure including Dan Fetzer, Frey Vineyards and Roederer Estates. Among their concerns is the likelihood that the introduction of GMOs will contaminate local crops making them unmarketable in the many countries now rejecting GMOs.

"The decision to ban [the growing of] GMOs in our County will put us on the world map as a place where our representatives are responsible, prudent, wise and truly care for the people," said Hubert Germain-Robin, of Redwood Valley's Germain-Robin, producers of world-renowned brandy and cognac.

This is exactly why the biotech industry wants to preemptively undermine Measure H before it even gets on the ballot, according to its local proponents.

Concerned citizens in Sonoma, Marin, Humboldt, Placer and San Bernardino Counties are already mounting campaigns modeled on Mendocino County's Measure H to ban the growing of GMOs.