February 6, 2020 — The Board of Supervisors modified the first draft of a proposed ordinance establishing additional prohibitions on genetically modified organisms at this week’s meeting, after hearing from environmentalists and cannabis interest groups who said they hadn’t been included in the drafting process.
The board adopted a moratorium on GMOs last year, after CordovaCann, a Canadian cannabis company, claimed without evidence that it was capable of using CRISPR technology to edit the cannabis genome. This led to an outcry from the county’s organic farmers and environmentalists, many of whom campaigned for Measure H, which became law in 2004. That was the voter initiative that led to Mendocino County becoming the first county in the nation to ban GMOs. But, since voter initiatives can’t be altered once they are passed, county counsel and the ag department went to work crafting an additional ordinance intended to update prohibitions for rapidly evolving technology.
Tuesday’s discussion turned rapidly to a few sentences in the definition of genetic engineering, or, more specifically, what doesn’t count as such. That definition, which led Supervisor Ted Williams to ask if certain parties had lobbied for the wording, excludes conjugation and transduction, as well as micro-organisms created by moving genes or gene segments between unrelated bacteria.
But Devon Jones, Executive Director of the county Farm Bureau, asked the board not to take action that would put local farmers at a disadvantage by forbidding them to benefit from the latest agricultural research.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to strike the section describing techniques that do not meet the definition of genetic engineering, choosing instead to re-use language from Measure H. Supervisors also agreed to direct staff to work with interest groups like the Farm Bureau, the Origins Council and Measure H proponents on further amendments to the ordinance.
The Board also revisited another moratorium from last February, agreeing, in another unanimous vote, to extend the moratorium on industrial hemp while preserving the possibility of a pilot program to grow it.
Brian White, a wine grape grower who is interested in farming hemp, was in favor of the pilot program.
But Hannah Nelson, of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, wants more time for stakeholder input. Her organization does support the continued moratorium. Hemp and cannabis are not identical, but close enough that pollen from one could disrupt the THC balance of the other.
The board expects a presentation about a possible hemp pilot program in early spring. The pilot program would supercede the moratorium for participants.