Measure D campaign gets scary

SHOT GLASS Susan Sullivan, a volunteer for GE-Free Butte, stands in front of the window that was used for target practice Sept. 1.

SHOT GLASS Susan Sullivan, a volunteer for GE-Free Butte, stands in front of the window that was used for target practice Sept. 1.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

The folks behind Measure D, the call to ban genetically altered foods and animals from Butte County, have been the target of a couple of shots this month—one literal and one metaphorical.

On the evening of Sept. 1, volunteers working in the GE-Free Butte headquarters on East First Street heard a hiss and a pop as a car drove by. Someone had fired a pellet gun at one of the building’s plate-glass windows, leaving a small hole in the middle of a 1-inch divot in the glass. No one was hurt, but it got the volunteers’ attention.

Police responded and wrote a report, according to a GE-Free press release. Volunteer Peter Laughton said in the release that the police failed to speculate on whether the action was “politically motivated.”

But just in case, Laughton promised, “We will not be intimidated.”

A week later opponents of Measure D, Citizens for Accountable Agriculture, issued a press release of their own with the alarming claim that Measure D “could ban the use of the West Nile Virus [v]accine in Butte County.”

The release, from spokesperson Susan LaGrande, warned that even though a human vaccine for WNV is still years away, “Measure D could encumber the way we protect ourselves” because the measure prohibits genetic engineering, which is how some vaccines are made.

The press release quotes Dr. John Mass from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Not only would Measure D ban the use of the technology used to develop the vaccine,” Mass says, “but it could also limit availability of animal vaccines in Butte County. In addition, it may hinder the development and use of human vaccines.”

Measure D reads, “It is unlawful for any person to propagate, cultivate, raise, or grow genetically engineered organisms in Butte County. …”

However, it does not prohibit “a fully accredited college or university [from engaging] in scientific research or education using genetically engineered organisms under secure, enclosed laboratory conditions, taking precautions to prevent contamination of the outside environment. …”

That means Chico State University and Butte College are exempt from the ban.

Mass, who writes a monthly column for California Cattleman, the magazine of the California Cattlemen’s Association, which has come out against Measure D, said when contacted this week he didn’t realize local university research was not affected when he made the statement.

“What exactly does the measure say?” he asked.

He said he was contacted by LaGrande for information on how the measure might affect WNV prevention and issued his statement based on what he was told.

Proponents of Measure D say the press release is nothing more than an attempt to frighten and mislead voters.

Scott Wolf, a spokesperson for GE-Free Butte, says the language of the measure authorizes “any licensed health care practitioner to provide any diagnosis, care or treatment to any patient. Consequently, a vaccine for West Nile virus could be administered with absolutely no restrictions on it, whatever the means of production.

“Despite the clear language in Measure D, and despite the Butte County counsel’s inclusion of full access to medical treatment in his impartial analysis of the measure, the opposition has chosen to ignore the text and use scare tactics about a deadly disease as a campaign tool.”

LaGrande said the press release was not a scare tactic, but rather brought up a "valid concern." She said the wording of the measure made it unclear whether the use of vaccines was addressed.