Localizing control: Mendocino County and the ban on GMOs
- 391 Downloads
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.
KeywordsBiotechnology Civic agriculture Localization Re-localization Social movements GMOs
Genetically modified organism
A preliminary draft of this article was written for a course given by Tom Lyson on Genomics, Agriculture, Food Systems and Development in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University. Thanks go to Tom Lyson, Max Pfeffer, and two anonymous reviewers for comments made on earlier drafts.
- Bailey, B., and M. Lappé. 1998. Against the grain: Biotechnology and the corporate takeover of our food. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.Google Scholar
- Barnard, J. 2002. Oregon votes down measures for free medical and genetically altered food labeling. The Associated Press State and Local Wire, November 6.Google Scholar
- Bradford, P., T. Piper, R.G. Geisler, J.R. Harris, and M. Anderson. 2004. Arguments against ballot proposition Measure H. Mendocino County election materials. http://www.gmofreemendo.com. Accessed Apr 2004.
- Calvan, B.C. 2004. County weighs ban on modified foods. The Boston Globe February 29. http://www.boston.com/news/articles/2004/02/29/county_weighs_ban_on_modified_foods/. Accessed Apr 2004.
- CNN. 2004. Marijuana-rich California county considers GMO ban. CNN.com, January 10.Google Scholar
- Cooperrider, E., M.J. Sheppard, and R. Epstein. 2004. Ballot statement in favor of Measure H. Mendocino County election materials. http://www.gmofreemnedo.com. Accessed 1 Apr 2004.
- Craver, T., D. Harris, Z. Grader, D. Fetzer, and M. Lappé. 2004. Rebuttal to argument against Measure H. Mendocino County election materials. http://www.gmofreemendo.com. Accessed Apr 2004.
- Due, L. 2004. Opening fire on GMOs. Alternet-EnviroHealth, February 27.Google Scholar
- Gamson, W. 1990. The strategy of social protest, 2nd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.Google Scholar
- Garcia, K. 2004. Planting seeds of rebellion. The San Francisco Chronicle, February 16: B-7.Google Scholar
- Geniella, M. 2004. Mendocino County voters ban biotech crops: First county in US to bar gene-altering farming. The Press Democrat, March 3.Google Scholar
- Goode, E., and N. Ben-Yehuda. 1994. Moral panics: The social construction of deviance. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Hamburg, L. 2004. Monsanto, Dow and Dupont dump more than $300k into smear campaign against Measure H. Press Release, February 20.Google Scholar
- Hoban, T.J. 1995. The construction of food biotechnology as a social issue. In Eating agendas: Food and nutrition as social problems, ed. D. Maurer and J. Sobal, 189–209. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.Google Scholar
- Irvine, R. 2004. Activists around the world watch Mendocino County: An example of corporate vs activist PR. Truth About Trade and Technology, February 25.Google Scholar
- Jacobs, P. 2004. Mendocino measure focuses debate over biotech crops. Mercury News, March 1.Google Scholar
- Jones, K.E. 2000. Constructing rBST in Canada: Biotechnology, instability and the management of nature. Canadian Journal of Sociology 25: 311–341.Google Scholar
- Kupfer, D. 2004a. Report from the grassroots—The Mendocino victory. Organic Consumers Association (March 3). http://www.organicconsumers.org. Accessed Apr 2004.
- Kupfer, D. 2004b. GMO = get Monsanto out? AlterNet, March 3.Google Scholar
- Lau, E. 2004. Anti-biotech measure approved: Mendocino’s Measure H backers overcome a huge fund-raising disadvantage. Sacramento Bee March 3. http://www.sacbee.com/content/politics/story/8396039p-9325630c.html. Accessed Apr 2004.
- Lucas, Greg. 2004. Efforts to ban genetically altered crops spreading. San Francisco Chronicle, March 30: B-3.Google Scholar
- Lyson, T.A. 2004. Civic agriculture: Reconnecting farm, food, and community. Medford, MA: Tufts University Press.Google Scholar
- Mazur, A. 1981. The dynamics of technical controversy. Washington, DC: Communications Press, Inc.Google Scholar
- Miller, H.L., J. Melo, T. Nelson, J.R. Harris, and G.A. Hollister. 2004. Rebuttal to argument in favor of Measure H. Mendocino County election materials. http://www.gmofreemendo.com. Accessed Apr 2004.
- Nestle, M. 2003. Safe foods: Bacteria, biotechnology, and bioterrorism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- O’Neill, G. 2002. Oregon setback for GM food opponents. Sunday Herald Sun, November 17.Google Scholar
- Organic Consumers Association. 2004. Mission accomplished-Mendocino County bans GE crops! Organic Bytes 29: 1.Google Scholar
- PANUPS. 2004. Mendocino votes on GE crop ban. Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, March 1.Google Scholar
- Petersen, J.C., and G.E. Markle. 1989. Controversies in science and technology. In Science off the pedestal: Social perspectives on science and technology, ed. D.E. Chubin and E.W. Chu, 5–18. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.Google Scholar
- Pogash, C. 2004. California county debates use of gene-altering foods. New York Times, March 2.Google Scholar