With over 425 wineries, towering redwood forests, farm-to-table dining and a rugged coastline, it’s hard to imagine that Sonoma County could be more appealing, but thanks to its proposed ban on all genetically-modified (GMO) crops, it definitely holds even greater appeal to me now.
Known as Measure M, the proposed ban on GMO crops and seeds has 56 percent of the vote in favor of being passed. While it’s unclear whether there are genetically-modified crops in one of America’s main agricultural areas, the ban would serve to prevent any GMO seeds or crops from contaminating the fertile region. Organic growers want assurances that their crops will be protected from cross-contamination with GMO seed, which is known for its unpredictability in the spread of trans genes (the genetically altered material present in the seeds).
If Measure M passes, Sonoma County will join Marin, Mendocino, Humboldt, Santa Cruz and Trinity in California bans on increasingly unpopular genetically-engineered crops. While the ban will prevent GMO crops and seeds in the county, it has some limitations: it would not cover the use of medical treatments for either humans or animals involving genetically-altered vaccines or medications. Additionally, it would not prevent research of GMOs within secure laboratories located within the county.
Sonoma County’s ban would not forbid medical treatment for humans or animals using altered vaccines or medications. The ban also would not prevent research into genetically modified organisms within the county as long as it was conducted in secure labs.
Considering the county’s stature in agriculture, particularly viticulture, in the United States, passing Measure M would be a bold strike at GMO proponents. It is unclear whether the county will experience push-back from corporations like Monsanto (now Bayer AG), DuPont, Syngenta, Groupe Limagrain, Land O’ Lakes, and others involved in GMO seed production.
Last year Josephine County in Oregon attempted to ban genetically modified crops in its region. However, just one day prior to passing its bill banning GMO foods, two farmers Robert A. White Jr. and Shelley White, who grew genetically-engineered sugar beets, filed a lawsuit against the county. The move came as no surprise to GMO opponents since those involved in serving the corporate interests of GMO producers and growers have been known for their litigious approach to forcing GMOs on the public.
Polls of the American people, however, consistently show that over 90 percent of Americans do not want GMOs in their food supply. According to the Organic Trade Association, 41 percent of American consumers currently purchase organic food. The Organic Consumers Association indicates that sales of organic wine, in particular, are booming across America. If genetic material from GMOs contaminated organic grapes, organic grape-growers and wineries could lose their certified organic status, which could in turn have serious financial repercussions to the industry and the regions involved in organic agriculture.