The three major newspapers in Sonoma County have come out in opposition to Measure M, an initiative on Tuesday's election ballot that would ban biotech crops in the county.

This opposition to the ballot measure represents major victories for the Family Farmers Alliance in Sonoma County, the lead group along with the Sonoma County Farm Bureau that has conducted a vigorous campaign against the initiative.

A defeat of the anti-biotech movement in Sonoma County would be a major setback for the statewide anti-biotech group since Sonoma is the home of the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, an 80-acre organic farm/commune near Bodega Bay. Leaders from Occidental led the effort to gather signatures for the Sonoma ballot. Occidental also has been the major source of funding and the hub of organizing efforts for past anti-biotech votes in Mendocino, Humboldt, Butte, Marin and San Luis Obispo counties.

Since this anti-biotech group's victory in Mendocino County in March 2004, 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 crops. In October Lake supervisors rejected two proposals to temporarily ban genetically modified crops.

Sonoma important

However, the greatest impact on the statewide anti-biotech movement would come with a defeat in Sonoma, a politically moderate to liberal county with a high urban population.

However, Sonoma also has a large agricultural economy. It ranks 16th in agricultural income in the state with wine grapes accounting the majority of the income. There are about 60,000 acres of wine grapes in the county.

Lex McCorvey, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, is optimistic the anti-biotech initiative will be turned down by voters.

A vote poll in January had the issue dead even with voters. Recent polls have showed gains among voters opposing the anti-biotech measure as a result of an aggressive campaign by farmers and other business leaders.

“All the major farm organizations in the county have been united against Measure M. Many taxpayer groups, chambers of commerce and business organizations have come out against the measure.

Veterinarian group opposed

“The big one for us lately was the Redwood Empire Veterinary Medical Association opposing it,” McCorvey said. That opposition came because the GE moratorium initiative would prohibit the sale of West Nile Virus vaccine in Sonoma County where there are many horse owners.

And of course, the editorials in the three major newspapers also were huge. Here is part of what was printed:

“The measure also is dishonest in that it is said to be about public health and safety. There are now 1 billion acres of GM crops in 18 countries around the world, and while reasonable people can agree that more testing should be done, one thing needs to be made clear. There is absolutely no evidence that GMO foods are unsafe.” — Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

“Considering the lack of hard evidence that would justify the fears of the anti-GMO proponents, and taking into account the very real concerns about the impact on the local dairy farmers, the economy and the public cost of enforcement, we recommend a “no vote on Measure M.” — Petaluma Courier

“A 10-year ban on the use of vital agricultural, medical and veterinary science in Sonoma is a very long time, too long. It is far more than a “time out.” It is a drop out with potentially serious consequences. The scientific evidence does not support such extreme action. We urge our readers to vote no on Measure M.” — Sonoma News

While the other anti-biotech ballot measures attracted support and interest from various statewide agricultural groups wanting initiatives defeated, the Sonoma vote has attracted considerably more interest because of its high urban vote.

‘Beginning of end’

A defeat there “could very well be the beginning of the end” for the statewide anti-biotech movement, according to one agricultural group's president.

Agricultural groups say the anti-biotech opponents do not want to stop with banning biotech crops. They oppose many aspects of conventional agriculture. Many were involved in the Alar scare that caused major economic damage to the U.S. apple industry. Some have been associated with the WTO protest several years ago that did major destruction to downtown Seattle.