My Word: ‘GMO Free Humboldt’ worthy goal for 2014

Thanks to Melanie Cunningham for her wonderful “My Word” piece about our initiative in today’s Times-Standard.   Read it in full below:

‘GMO Free Humboldt’ worthy goal for 2014

Melanie Cunningham/My Word
Over the last few decades, genetically engineered organisms (usually called “genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs) have been developed and introduced into the marketplace with increasing speed. These organisms and the products made from them are now pervasive throughout our food system, yet there has been very little independent study of their potential long-term health and environmental impacts.In light of the proliferation of GMOs, and in the absence of any effective regulation or even required labeling of GMOs at the federal or state level, communities have increasingly taken what actions they can to address the issue at the local level. In California, the counties of Mendocino, Trinity, Marin and Santa Cruz have all adopted ordinances prohibiting the cultivation and production of GMOs. Even closer to home, the city of Arcata has a similar ordinance in place.

Now, a local grassroots group called the Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt is spearheading an effort to get a similar county-level ordinance on the November 2014 ballot. This ordinance would prohibit the “cultivation, propagation, raising or growing” of GMOs in Humboldt County. (It would NOT affect food sold in grocery stores, animal feed sold at feed stores, or research done in labs.) In doing so, it would help protect our county from many of the risks associated with GMOs. Perhaps even more importantly, it would give a critical boost to Humboldt’s burgeoning sustainable agriculture industry.

As you may have heard on the news or noticed on labels in the grocery store, a large and growing number of companies — and many entire countries — do not accept genetically engineered food products. However, GMO crops can genetically contaminate non-GMO crops at a great distance through cross-pollination. Therefore, the danger of GMOs planted by one person contaminating the crops of neighboring farmers represents a serious economic threat to those neighbors seeking access to GMO-free markets. Additionally, organic farmers run the risk of losing their certifications — and thus in many cases their livelihoods — if their crops are contaminated. As of 2011, Humboldt County produced over $44 million worth of organic agriculture products. That’s one big reason that prohibiting GMOs in the county is a necessary, proactive measure to promote our county’s economic prosperity.

On a more fundamental level, preventing genetic contamination with the GMO Free Humboldt ordinance is really a matter of fairness. Currently, the vast majority of Humboldt County farmers and gardeners choose to plant non-GMO varieties. They should be able to make that choice without the threat of GMO contamination hanging over them. Furthermore, many of these folks have been saving their seeds and selecting diverse, locally adapted varieties for generations. Contamination threatens that legacy.

Finally, it’s important to realize that the potential effects of GMOs should be of concern outside of the agriculture community, as well. For example, various companies are currently working toward commercial introduction of genetically engineered trees and fishes in the US. If such organisms were ever to be introduced into Humboldt County, their effects on our forest, river, and ocean ecosystems would be unpredictable and potentially very serious. The proposed prohibition on GMOs is a prudent environmental action, as well as preemptive protection for our timber, fisheries and tourism industries.

A GMO Free Humboldt is a goal worthy of support from the entire community. You can find out more about the Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt at


Melanie Cunningham identifies herself as a concerned farmer at Shakefork Community Farm in Carlotta.


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