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Sonoma County voters pass Measure M, ban on GMOs

A proposed ban on genetically-modified crops in Sonoma County led in results early Wednesday.

With 459 of 459 precincts reporting, Measure M held 56 percent of the 'yes' vote.

Measure M bans all genetically-modified crops and seeds from being grown or used in unincorporated areas of the county.

In general, genetically modified plants are grown from seeds engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits or otherwise improve crop yields and increase global food supply. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been bio-engineered.

It's unclear whether any such crops are being grown in Sonoma County. However, Measure M supporters argued a ban is needed to prevent future plantings and possible cross-contamination with other crops, including those certified organic.

Opponents argued a GMO ban could stymie the fight against vineyard pests, such as Pierce's disease and powdery mildew. They also pointed to scientific studies showing GMO foods generally don't pose health risks.

Measure M supporters, which include organic dairies, natural food co-ops and heirloom seed companies, raised more than three times as much money as opponents, which included seed giant Monsanto, a consortium of chemical companies and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

The combined amounts raised by the campaigns, nearly $255,000, made Measure M one of the more expensive ballot initiatives in county history. However, that amount was well shy of the record $850,000 spent a decade ago on a similar measure handily rejected by voters.

Political observers predicted a GMO ban stood a better chance of being approved this election because of interest in local elections in which the environment was a major theme.

Sonoma County's ban would not forbid medical treatment for humans or animals using altered vaccines or medications. The ban also would not prevent research into genetically modified organisms within the county as long as it was conducted in secure labs.

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