WASHINGTON - March 4 - On Tuesday, Mendocino County, California became the first county in the country to ban genetically engineered crops and animals. Mendocino took an important step to protect consumers and the environment made necessary by the lack of federal regulations over this technology, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which applauded the vote.
"This vote sends a clear message to both the biotechnology industry and the federal government: if you won't take steps to protect the public, then the public will take those steps on its own," said U.S. PIRG environmental advocate Richard Caplan. "As voters around the country are emboldened by this vote, we can expect other counties and states to take similar actions."
Genetically engineered crops have been planted in tens of thousands of poorly regulated open-air experiments across the country, according to the PIRG report Raising Risk. Just last week, a new Union of Concerned Scientists report revealed contamination of conventional seeds with genetically engineered material.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently accepting public comments on whether the agency should change its regulations regarding oversight of genetically engineered crops. Given widespread plantings of genetically engineered crops, poor oversight, news about contamination, and this week's vote in California, U.S. PIRG and others seeking to improve federal oversight are encouraging similar activism calling on USDA to protect human health and the environment.
The biotechnology industry spent more than $500,000 - nearly ten dollars per registered voter and more money spent on any ballot initiative in Mendocino County history - to influence yesterday's vote.
"Voters in Mendocino County have taken a courageous step to protect their citizens and their businesses," concluded U.S. PIRG's Caplan. "If the federal government continues to fail to properly regulate genetic engineering, we hope that other counties will follow suit."