Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 95-105

First online:

Localizing control: Mendocino County and the ban on GMOs

  • Marygold Walsh-DilleyAffiliated withDepartment of Development Sociology, Cornell University Email author 

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In March, 2004, the rural northern California county of Mendocino voted to ban the propagation of all genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This county was the first, and only, U.S. region to adopt such a ban despite widespread activism against biotechnology. Using a civic agriculture perspective, this article explores how local actors in this small county were able to take on the agri-biotechnology industry. I argue that by localizing the issue, the citizens of Mendocino County were able to ignite a highly effective, decentralized and grassroots social movement against which powerful, and well-funded, pro-biotechnology entities were unable to compete. The social problem of biotechnology was embedded in issues of mass concern to Mendocino County residents, such as democracy, equity, distribution of power, and corporate control over local life. The campaign was an arena for “local problem-solving activities organized around food and agriculture” (Lyson 2004, p. 103). However, though localizing this issue was key for generating a successful ban against the propagation of GMOs at the county level, the local orientation of the No to GMOs movement created a barrier for scaling-up and transferring this success to the wider anti-biotechnology movement.


Biotechnology Civic agriculture Localization Re-localization Social movements GMOs