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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Californians Vote on Biotech Crops - 2004-11-09

Broadcast: November 9, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Voters in the American state of California did not just choose government representatives in elections on November second. In some areas, voters also made decisions about agriculture. Four counties decided if they wanted to ban products of genetically engineering.

This was not the first time that Californians have voted on the issue. In March, Mendocino County became the first area in the United States to ban genetically engineered crops and animals. Trinity County approved a similar ban in August.

Last week, four more California counties voted on the issue. Butte County rejected a measure to ban genetically engineered crops. So did voters in San Luis Obispo County. A similar measure in Humboldt County was declared unconstitutional. However, Marin County, to the North of San Francisco, voted to ban such crops and animals.

The votes are the latest clashes in a campaign to limit the spread of genetically changed products. Environmental groups support votes to ban such products. Many environmentalists are concerned that genetically engineered crops will mix with traditional crops.

In October, the Environment Protection Agency released a study on a genetically engineered kind of grass. It found that the grass could fertilize grasses up to twenty-one kilometers away. That surprised scientists.

Many farmers oppose bans on crops they can grow. The California Farm Bureau Federation wants voters to reject bans on genetically changed products. And many farmers are concerned that their products may become less competitive if they cannot use the latest technology.

But, the success of local votes on genetically changed crops depends on the agricultural interests in those areas. In Mendocino County, for example, organic grape growers are an important part of the economy.

Wine-making companies such as Fetzer and Frey use organically grown grapes from Mendocino. These companies have found that organic wines are an expanding part of the American and foreign wine markets.

Organic growers may fear losing their organic approval if genetically engineered crops are nearby. At the same time, organic wine-making is a growth industry in the American wine market. That market is worth nearly twenty-two thousand million dollars.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Gwen Outen.