On the eve of perhaps the most significant California county ballot to ban biotechnology, the San Francisco Chronicle recommended Sonoma voters reject a proposed ban on biotech crops.

This is a surprising development since the Bay Area is the base of not only the state’s anti-biotech movement, but many radical environmental groups are based in the Bay Area as well. One of the two county ballot victories of the anti-biotech movement in the state was in Marin County earlier this year. Marin abuts San Francisco just across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Chronicle’s opposition to the anti-biotech measure is a huge victory for a coalition of farmers and business leaders which opposes the anti-biotech moratorium. Failing to gain support from the one of the most liberal newspapers in California can only be described as a major setback for the group connected to the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, an 80-acre organic farm/commune near Bodega Bay that has been the rallying site for not only the Sonoma County anti-biotech movement, but for the statewide anti-biotech movement as well.

The Chronicle hosted an hour-long debate between the two sides in the Sonoma County ballot initiative and concluded in its editorial that, “While we share the proponents’ desire for further studies, there is nothing inherently frightening about genetically modified crops.

“They open the possibilities for feeding more people with less land...with less water, fewer pesticides and herbicides, less fertilizer and less fuel and pollution.”

The Chronicle editorial pointed out that there are a billion acres of fields with genetically engineered crops in the world and “many of those products now end up in Sonoma County grocery stores — and will continue to do so even if Measure M passes. The technology is not going away, no matter what happens Nov. 8.

“Further research—yes; Moratorium—no. Sonoma County voters should defeat Measure M,” concluded the editorial in one of the most liberal newspapers in California.

Joins other majors

The major Northern California newspaper joined the three major newspapers in Sonoma County which earlier came out in opposition to Measure M. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Petaluma Courier an Sonoma News have all come out in opposition to the anti-biotech measure.

A defeat in Sonoma County would be a major setback for the movement that enjoyed success early for its movement with an anti-biotech ballot initiative in Mendocino County last year. Since then they have met stiff opposition from grassroots county agricultural groups. Biotech bans were rejected at the polls in Butte, San Luis Obispo and Humboldt counties. The only ballot victory since Mendocino has been in Marin, a Bay Area county where there is no agriculture and there was no organized opposition to the ballot measure. Trinity County passed an ordinance banning biotech crops to keep from holding an expensive election. The ordinance can be overturned by another vote.

The boards of supervisors in 11 California counties have passed resolutions supporting biotech crops. Lake County is the most recent to reject efforts to ban biotech crops. In October Lake supervisors rejected two proposals to temporarily ban genetically modified crops.

A few days before the Chronicle editorial was published, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) issued a scientific assessment commentary on biotechnology. It was authored by scientists from the University of Illinois, Urbana, University of Georgia, the University of Iowa at Ames as well as Rick Roush, entomology department at University of California Davis and Alan McHughen, biotechnology scientist at the University of California, Riverside.

Scientific evidence

They say a “preponderance of scientific evidence” rejects the ideology portrayed in books and videos like The Future of Food, Seeds of Deception and Hidden Dangers in Kids’ Meals that transgenic foods are unsafe; do not perform well and genes will escape to “contaminate” other crops or produce “superweeds.”

The CAST commentary says transgenic crops have made it possible to continue the benefits of the Green Revolution “while at the same time diminishing the detrimental environmental impacts of agriculture.” They do not contaminate and are safe to animals and humans.

Of the 8.5 million farmers who have grown transgenic crops, CAST says more than 7 million are small acreage farmers in developing countries. These transgenic crops are consumed by humans and animals in most countries without adverse affects.

According to the commentary, the National Academy of Science has concluded that biotechnology “is no more likely to produce unintended changes than conventional technology — indeed the greater precision and more defined nature of the changes introduced may actually be safer.”

The advent of engineered crops has resulted in “dramatic reductions” in insecticide use in agriculture while at the same time increasing yields.

“While films such as The Future of Food distort the history and facts of agriculture and some people may long for a view of the past that never was, what the world needs from modern agriculture is both an increase in productivity and a decrease in its environmental footprint,” write the scientists. “Transgenic crops already have achieved these needs and will continue to offer much more, as long as mankind is willing to apply technology to meet societal needs,” the scientists concluded.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com