Prohibition of GMO Crops in Sonoma County Creates Largest GMO-Free Growing Zone in the U.S.

gmo crops prohibited in sonoma county
iStock/Hal Bergman

Fifty-six percent of Sonoma County, Calif., voters voted in favor of a ballot measure banning the growth of genetically modified crops. Sonoma is the sixth county to pass such a ballot measure, joining neighboring counties including Marin, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity, thus creating the largest area where GMO crops cannot be grown in the U.S.

This new GMO-free zone measures a total of 13,734 square miles.

“What’s exciting is, we have a northwest coast GMO-free growing zone that’s growing, and Sonoma County is the missing link,” ban proponent Karen Hudson told SF Gate.

The ballot initiative, called the Sonoma County Transgenic Contamination Ordinance, but more often referred to as Measure M, bans all GMO crops and seeds from being grown or used in unincorporated areas of the county.

“Enacting change in the food movement, or any movement, starts at the local level and the passage of Measure M is an incredible victory for Sonoma farmers and gardeners,” Rebecca Spector, West Coast director of the Center for Food Safety, told Ecowatch. “Farmers deserve the right to grow food that is not contaminated by genetic engineering, just as the public deserves the right to purchase organic or GMO-free foods that are free from GMO contamination.”

Farmers who are now growing GMOs or who have already purchased GMO seeds for next season will be allowed to continue growing this season as a grace period before the ban is put into place.

Supporters of Measure M raised more than three times as much as opponents of the measure, with a total of $255,000 raised by both camps. This makes Measure M one of the more expensive ballot initiatives in the history of Sonoma County. Supporters of the measure included organic dairies, natural food co-ops, and heirloom seed companies.

Ten years ago, a similar measure, for which campaigns raised $850,000, was voted down by a ten percent margin.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.