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California Cities Cannot Ban GMOs

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Photo:susanmelkisethian/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Last Monday, the Los Angeles City Council met to vote on whether the city should ban the selling and planting of GMO plants, the argument being that they may be possibly unfit for consumption and theoretically harm the biodiversity of the area. The Council ultimately decided to delay the vote until further evidence is provided. (The above inclusion of words like "possibly" and "theoretically" suggests this isn't a terrible idea.)

However, the Council may never again get a chance to vote on GMO regulation. See, while the threat of GMOs being grown in L.A. is not all that concrete -- there are no GMOs grown in L.A., and there are no plans to do so -- the real reason for the proposed ban is that there's a deadline looming.

On January 1st of 2015, California cities will not be able to regulate GMOs.

This new rule is part of Assembly Bill 2470, a measure that updates how the state regulates the sales of seeds. It was unanimously passed in May and subsequently signed into law by Governor Brown on August 25th. While it was sold as simply a basic update and tweaking of a few rules, it also contained this line:

The bill would also prohibit a city, county, or district, including a charter city or county, from adopting or enforcing an ordinance on or after January 1, 2015, that regulates plants, crops, or seeds without the consent of the secretary.

That's where the worry comes in.

Due to the bill's wording, cities and counties in California will no longer be able to dictate what goes on regarding seed-related ordinances. And since there's no exemption for GMO regulation in there, that includes any attempts to regulate the controversial practice. This is why the City Council tried to push through a ban before they no longer had the chance. (Mendocino County's ban on GMO planting, passed way back in 2004 and the first regulation of its kind in the country, will be grandfathered in.)

Humboldt County saw this coming.

While they had collected enough signatures back in April to put their own county-based GMO ban (Measure P) onto the November ballot, they utilized the urgency felt by this hidden deadline to galvanize their anti-GMO contingent a bit more forcefully. As a result, the Measure passed with over 60 percent of the vote, and they're now figuring out how exactly to enforce their new GMO-free reality. But after January 1st, Humboldt and Mendocino may be the only areas in California free of GMO plants.

So, where does that leave Los Angeles?

Realistically, about the same place as before. As I mentioned up top, there are no GMOs currently being grown in the city of Los Angeles. (At least, not on purpose and for mass consumption.) And the urban landscape of the city doesn't lend itself to the cultivation of mass crops. But the fact that the Council was mulling over pushing forward a relatively pointless ban like this one does indicate the murky nature of the future of GMO policy in California. It's all for one from here on out, which may simply add up to none.

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