I think of that joke whenever an election presents us with a choice between bad options. It also comes to mind whenever a half-baked initiative makes the statewide ballot out here in California–because then we really do face an election without any candidates and at least one bad option.

This year, however, it isnt a statewide proposal that has caught my attention. Instead, its Measure H–a ballot question confined to voters in Mendocino County, about a hundred miles north of the San Francisco Bay. Theyre being asked to turn back the clock with a ban on one of the most useful environmental tools available to farmers: biotechnology.

The strangest thing about Measure H is that it would accomplish absolutely nothing: Although agricultural biotechnology is widely used and accepted throughout California and the nation, nobody in Mendocino County actually grows genetically-enhanced crops. In a very basic sense, this Measure H is a solution in search of a problem.

Not that biotech enhanced crops are a problem: Theyve helped farmers around the world boost their productivity, grow crops in cleaner fields while allowing a much more efficient use of our resources. Thats good for growers, consumers, and anybody who cares about the environment. Something as simple as increasing the yields on existing acreage reduces the pressure all of us face to convert wilderness into farmland. Isnt that a worthwhile benefit?

So Measure H wont solve any problems, but it will create plenty. Right now, farmers in Mendocino County dont use biotechnology because they cant: Their crops arent yet available in genetically enhanced form. But one day they will be–and just as biotechnology saved Hawaiis papaya industry from a devastating disease a few years ago, it may come to help Mendocino Countys grape growers and pear farmers. Is it really wise to ban something with such amazing potential?

But thats in the future–and its easy for people to forget their long-term interests during a political campaign. Measure H presents short-term problems as well. Every law requires enforcement–but the authors of Measure H didnt bother to identify any sources of funding for monitoring what people are planting in their backyards. This is fiscally foolish because it may require the country to raise taxes or divert resources from vital services. It may also lead to more government intrusion, as inspectors invade personal privacy to make sure everybodys in compliance with the ban.

I dont live in Mendocino County, so the outcome of the vote wont affect me or my personal decision to grow biotech enhanced cotton–at least not right away. Yet Measure H isnt an isolated event. Its part of a small but growing national effort to stamp out agricultural biotechnology.

A year and a half ago, activists tried to convince Oregon voters to approve a complicated system of labels for grocery products and restaurant items containing biotech ingredients, which an overwhelming number of our foods do. Oregonians wisely rejected this idea because it would have been confusing and expensive–all in the service of achieving something of no value.

The Oregon vote was so lopsided that the enemies of biotechnology decided they needed to achieve a political victory somewhere, no matter how small the locality. So they went shopping for an ideal venue. They believe theyve found it in Mendocino County because of its liberal reputation.

But is it liberal to ban a tool that has helped us fight diabetes, Parkinsons disease, AIDS, cancer, and other afflictions? Not in my book.

My immediate concern is that if Measure H passes in Mendocino County, its supporters will try to build upon their success and pass bans elsewhere–perhaps in my own county or for the whole state. That would be a terrible development for everybody. It would mean a less environmentally friendly system of farm production, higher prices in stores, and an increased temptation to plow more fields just to maintain our existing level of productivity.

That just doesnt make sense. I hope people in Mendocino County decide to nip this problem in the bud and vote no on Measure H.