Farmers in Sonoma County have lined up on both sides of a ballot initiative that would bar them from growing genetically modified crops in this lush region of vineyards and orchards. In one of the county's most expensive ballot fight ever, supporters and opponents of the proposed 10-year ban have spent a combined $850,000 (Ђ708,805). Sonoma would be only the fourth U.S. county, after three others in California, to ban such crops if Measure M is approved Tuesday.
Organic farmer Shelley Arrowsmith said a ban would give her peace of mind that the tomatoes, basil and apples she grows on her modest 2.5-acre (1-hectare) farm are uncontaminated. She relies on "good bugs" attracted by the flowers surrounding her vegetable garden to keep troublesome insects under control.
But Art Lafranchi, who grows 45 acres (18 hectares) of genetically modified feed corn on his Sonoma County dairy farm, said he thinks his crops are much cleaner than the conventional corn he had before. He's had to use progressively less pesticides over the six years he's grown weed-resistant crops.
Lex McCorvey, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, has raised money from farmers and wineries to fight the proposed ban, which he said could hurt county farmers' standing in the marketplace.
Packaged foods in the U.S. commonly have some genetically modified component, although Europe has imposed restrictions on genetically modified crop imports.
McCorvey added that the risk of cross-pollination of genetically altered crops such as corn is very low.
If the ban is approved, Sonoma County would be responsible for enforcing fines up to $1,000 (Ђ833) for each violation. A.M.