When voters recently hit the polls November 2nd, the selection of their President and Congressman weren’t the only items on the ballot – at least for residents in three California counties.  Among the items they voted on were three initiatives to ban the use of genetically modified foods.  Unfortunately for the measures’ advocates, all three ballot measures went down to lopsided defeat.

Citizens in Butte rejected Measure D by 61 to 39 percent.  In San Luis Obispo, Measure Q went down 59 to 41 percent.  And in Humbolt County, Measure M was defeated by 65 to 35 percent.  All three referenda, designed to stop the use of biotech crops among farmers, were pressed hard by activists.  But with such a sound trouncing, the results of these referenda are now widely viewed as serious setbacks for anti-GM forces.

The use of biotechnology has been controversial for years, but is widely believed to have many positive benefits.  Scientists, by cutting and pasting DNA, are able to engineer plants that can withstand herbicides, resist pests, and grow medicinal compounds.  Supporters of biotech maintain that using the technology will enable them to grow food more abundantly, without the use of chemical pesticides, and thus make farming easier.

Opponents of genetically modified crops believe, on the other hand, altering the genetic code of food sources will have unintended environmental and health consequences.  They have successfully lobbied European leaders to ban its importation from developing nations.  Most mainstream farmers and U.S. government officials believe, however, such concerns lack a credible scientific basis.  This has been a constant agitation to environmentalists who have sought to add muscle to their cause by posting ballot initiatives in various counties.

No one believes the rejection of the referenda will be the final word on the contentious issue.  Already anti-biotech activists are gearing up for renewed efforts in Santa Barbara and Sonoma counties next time around.  But the rejection of these anti-GM initiatives clearly takes the steam out of a cause that has billed itself as popular with the public, and may well be an indicator of more hard times to come for the activists.