GMO’s on the Ballot in Sonoma County

Sept. 10, 2016

This November, the citizens of the County of Sonoma will vote on a measure to ban genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in the County. On the ballot as Measure M and known as the Sonoma County Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance, the measure was placed on the ballot through the submission of over 20,000 valid local signatures by a group called the Citizens for Healthy Farms and Families. The Sonoma County Farm Bureau and the business-oriented Sonoma County Alliance are opposed to Measure M in particular as they are concerned about its impact on local farmers and businesses in the County.

During a May hearing in which a multitude of supporters and opponents spoke out, the County Board of Supervisors was tasked with allowing the ordinance to take effect immediately or sending to the voters in November. As several Supervisors expressed concerns over the language and the initiative as a whole, the Supervisors decided to send the measure to the ballot.

It is not the first time the issue has been before Sonoma County voters. In 2005, a similar Measure M was defeated 55%-45%. However, bans have passed in the neighboring Counties of Mendocino and Marin, as well as several other Bay Area Counties, and the issue has continued to be an ongoing life sciences debate since that last election.

Measure M would “prohibit the propagation, cultivation, raising or growing of genetically engineered organisms” in the County. “Genetically engineered” is defined as the altering of the genetic material of organisms through “in vitro nucleic acid techniques” such as in recombinant DNA or RNA, or through the fusing of cells “beyond the taxonomic family”.  While the measure specifically states that it would not prevent scientific research, nor forbid medical treatment using GMO-based vaccines or medication,

CLSA is monitoring the situation for its impacts on the life sciences sector. Given the high profile nature of the ballot initiative and previous attempts by various City and County jurisdictions around the state on this and other life science issues, the possibility is high for additional biotech-related measures at the local legislative or electoral level in the future. Questions? Please contact Reese Isbell, CLSA’s Director of Local Government & Community Relations (