updated 3/3/2004 9:35:41 AM ET 2004-03-03T14:35:41

Voters in Northern California’s Mendocino County on Tuesday passed a first-in-the-nation measure banning the raising of genetically engineered plants and animals. The measure won by 56 percent to 44 percent.

Legislation restricting biotechnology has been passed elsewhere, but nothing as sweeping as the proposal in Mendocino County, a place with a frontier spirit where the biggest cash crop in marijuana.

The biotechnology industry lost the fight to stop Measure H despite spending five times as much as supporters during the campaign. Biotech foes hope the measure will galvanize similar efforts from Vermont to Hawaii.

“They had the money, we had the people,” said Els Cooperrider, who led the local ballot measure.

Organic vintners and farmers pushed for the ban, which would not prevent processed food made with genetically modified ingredients from being sold in stores. They claim genetically modified plants and animals could carry unintended health risks, although biotech supporters argue that no negative effects have been reported since the Food and Drug Administration first approved genetically engineered crops for human consumption 10 years ago.

There are no known genetically modified crops raised in Mendocino County, but farmers said they would use the law as a marketing tool, especially in Europe, where opposition to genetically engineered foods is fierce.

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