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Sonoma County Voters To Decide On Banning GMOs

SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) – Sonoma County voters in November will consider an ordinance banning genetically modified organisms in the county.

The Board of Supervisors balked at approving outright a GMO ban ordinance Tuesday and instead unanimously voted to put the proposed Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance on the ballot without making any modifications to the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance would prohibit propagating, cultivating, raising or growing genetically engineered organisms. It would take effect as soon at voters approve it, but it would allow existing entities that are growing genetically engineered organisms until the end of the current growth cycle to comply with the ban.

Citizens for Healthy Farms and Families needed 14,358 valid signatures to put the measure on the ballot and collected 20,605 valid signatures.

All voters in Sonoma County will vote on the measure, but the ban on growing GMOs applies only to those living in the unincorporated areas of the county.

A previous GMO ban measure failed in 2005. Citizens for Healthy Farms and Families coordinator Karen Hudson said the county's residents are now more educated about genetically engineered food recalls that has included tomatoes.

"We feel pretty positive," Hudson said.

Hudson said she is aware of only one grower of genetically modified corn in the county.

Genetically engineered plants grown in labs for medicinal use are not included in the ban, Hudson said. There also is no prohibition on research, sale or purchasing of GMOs for people or animals, Hudson said.

"The only issue is propagating, cultivating, raising and growing GMOs," Hudson said. Supporters of the ban also are concerned about pollen drift from GMOs to other farms.

The University of California Cooperative Extension said the proposed ban would potentially prohibit the cultivation of 3,000 existing crop varieties, insect control measures and new microbials used to prevent West Nile virus in horses and distemper and rabies in dogs.

The UCCE also said the measure might subject organic farmers to stricter standards than those of the United States Department of agriculture.

There is significant use of genetically modified crops and livestock in production, and no evidence of adverse impacts to humans by consumption of genetically modified foods, the UCCE said.

Even though the ban on growing GMOs would apply to the unincorporated areas, no area in Sonoma County will be 100 percent protected because of wind flows, the UCCE said.

The Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner's Office said the measure does not provide authority to enter a property to inspect or take and test samples of GMOs, and the ordinance is not specific in definitions regarding compliance and enforcement.

Other counties with GMO regulations are Marin, Humboldt, Mendocino, Santa Cruz and Trinity. The proposed Sonoma County ordinance needs a majority in favor to pass.

© Copyright 2016 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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