Farm and Food File: Your vote doesn’t count at the WTO


The most important election in farm country this fall won’t be in presidential swing states like Iowa and Wisconsin nor will it involve mad cows, angry Brazilians or even promise-spewing, glad-handing politicians.
No, the most important farm-centered election this year will be in Butte Country, Calif., where voters will choose whether to ban genetically modified crops and livestock in the third biggest rice-growing county in the United States.
Measure D. In ballot initiative-crazy California, this ballot initiative, called Measure D, is ringing alarm bells across the country.
On Aug. 23, the American Farm Bureau’s biggest Bigfoot, national president Bob Stallman, rolled into Chico, the county’s media center, to declare Measure D “anti-progress and anti-corporate.”
Other national farm groups have voiced similar criticisms.
As big as Butte County’s proposed biotech ban could be, truth is it’s a latecomer to the California anti-GM movement.
On March 2, voters in nearby Mendocino County made it the first county in America to ban GM crops and animals.
The vote wasn’t close.
After being outspent $700,000 to $135,000 in a heated campaign, anti-GM forces claimed a stunning 57 percent of the vote.
Bans. In early August, Trinity County, Calif., officials imposed a GM ban there.
Currently, at least three other California counties have similar gene-ban initiatives on the Nov. 2 ballots.
All come just two years after biotech’s giants – Monsanto, DuPont and BASF among others – crushed a statewide GM food labeling proposition in Oregon.
One month before that 2002 election, polling showed voters favored GM food labeling nearly 2-to-1.
Subsequently, the gene giants flooded the state in anti-labeling ads to drown the ballot initiative by a tidal 71-to-29 percent margin.
Different route. The California fight is taking on a different route, though.
With so many ballot initiatives in the country’s largest ag state, GM proponents won’t use greenbacks as much as true blue political contacts to beat the bans.
They now appear to be leaping past expensive local battles to browbeat Sacramento for clear, pro-GM state legislation.
Politically, it’s the smart move, and one – given the America’s fiercely pro-business stance in global trade talks – that would have occurred sooner than later.
Indeed, if the leather-lunged yakkers in the World Trade Organization’s ag talks ever fashion an acceptable treaty, two things are virtually certain.
‘Happy home.’ First, GM crops and livestock will find a happy home on the WTO range; no bans no place on nothing from the Left Coast, East Coast or Ivory Coast.
After all, an estimated 70 percent of all U.S. groceries contain genetically modified material today and no U.S. trade negotiator worth his Guccis will accept a throttling back of America’s world-leading gene machine.
Supersede. Secondly, and even more importantly, if the WTO’s Doha ag talks render global trading rules, those rules virtually supersede every local, state and federal law on the books, says Matt Porterfield, a trade law specialist and adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Harrison Institute for Public Law.
The latest examples Porterfield cites are Brazil’s twin WTO wins over American cotton subsidies and European Union sugar payments.
Those rulings will force a rewrite of U.S. and E.U. farm policy.
“In general,” he explains, “if a current domestic law appears to be trade inhibiting – and a local GM ban or labeling rule could be reasonably challenged as such – then expect WTO challenges.”
Moreover, he continues, the California GM bans already appear to restrict business investment in those counties.
Under Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (and now its Central American version, CAFTA, too), biotech companies likely would sue the counties for everything they are worth – lock, stock and courthouse.
Suing, too. And if those two threats aren’t big enough guns to blast local voters back into the New World Order, “The federal government can sue in federal court to strike down local and state rules, also,” Porterfield adds.
In short, the hot pursuit of world trade nirvana is creating new rules that will overrule local, state and federal elections. Which isn’t so alarming when you consider the definition of nirvana: the perfect state of bliss attained by the extinction of individuality.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.