Yes on Measure D

Measure D, which would ban genetically modified crops and animals from Butte County, is really little more than a symbolic protest on the part of citizens angered and frustrated by the reckless practices of biotech giants like Monsanto and the utter failure of the federal government to protect American consumers.

For one thing, it will be largely unenforceable. Richard Price, the Butte County agriculture commissioner, has said he barely has the resources to conduct the tasks with which he is currently charged, let alone policing the county’s more than 2,000 farms for GMO crops. And, second, there is nothing to stop genetic drift from coming in from outside of the county.

Nonetheless, because the initiative process seems to be the only way consumers can get their voices heard in this case, we endorse Measure D.

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, contain genetic material that has been permanently altered in the laboratory in order, in the case of crops, to enhance traits that supposedly lead to increased yield, environmentally friendly farming practices and less cost per acre of production.

However, in the decade that GMO crops have been commercially grown in this country, studies indicate those promises have not been realized.

What’s more, European and Asian markets have long resisted GMOs; in recent years American corn exports have dipped by $300 million in sales.

Frankly, we think those farmers who use GMOs have made a deal with the devil. They’ve given huge corporations, notably Monsanto, a legal say in how crops are grown, nurtured and cultivated. Centuries-long practices of seed propagation are being lost because Monsanto requires that farmers use only its seeds each year instead of seeds the farmers have harvested themselves. And if these GMO crops drift onto the neighbor’s fields and Monsanto finds out, the company sues the neighbor for copyright infringement—it has done so hundreds of times—shredding the spirit of the farming community.

We understand local farmers’ fears that banning GMOs in Butte County puts them at a competitive disadvantage. They view those behind Measure D as wild-eyed environmentalists who don’t understand the farming process. And those pushing the measure see the farmers who favor GMOs as only in it for the money. Neither group is being fair or accurate, but more important the consumer is being ignored altogether.

Food producers began slipping GMO-based products onto supermarket shelves beginning in 1996. Consumers weren’t informed of this, and there was no labeling of packaging. Genetic modification is one of the most radical food experiments ever, one affecting many millions of people, and yet it was kept strictly hush-hush.

Last week the folks fighting Measure D, a group calling itself Citizens for Accountable Agriculture, issued a press release crowing the news that the European Union had finally accepted the use of biotech seeds. This announcement, the release said, “undermines arguments for Measure D.”

Not quite. The fact is that the EU commissioners buckled under pressure from Monsanto, as well as from a World Trade Organization lawsuit filed by the Bush administration claiming a GMO ban constitutes an illegal trade barrier. This does not mean European consumers will embrace GM seeds.

The EU requires that GMOs be labeled, allowing consumers a clear choice, and so far European shoppers have shown little interest in eating GMOs.

What’s an American consumer to do? A boycott is out of the question—how do you boycott something you can’t recognize?

Yes, Measure D would probably be unenforceable. But we reckon that if it’s approved Monsanto will stay away from Butte County anyway. After all, the corporation would no longer be able to hassle those downwind neighbors.

Besides, symbolism matters. Initiatives such as Measure D are consumers’ only way to protest the proliferation of GMO products in this country. Several other California counties are considering similar measures, and if all or most of them pass, it will send a powerful signal that more needs to be done if GMOs are ever to be accepted in this country.