Times-Standard: “Just Say No to GMOs?” We Say: “Yes!”

Catherine Wong at the Times-Standard published a front-page article on our initiative yesterday.  You can read the text below.

We appreciate Catherine’s reporting and the attention it’s bringing to our cause.  However, we do have one correction: Catherine’s definition of GMOs is far too broad.  Her term “genetically changed” encompasses not just genetic engineering but also conventional breeding, and it would include every crop variety in use today!

We have a very specific and technical definition of GMOs in our ordinance, but a good, simple explanation is that they are organisms produced by manipulating DNA in a laboratory to overcome natural reproductive barriers.  The resulting organisms contain genetic codes which could not have been created through natural processes.

Hybrids and other varieties produced from conventional breeding are not GMOs!  Rather, most GMOs today are crop plants engineered to resist the effects of certain herbicides or to produce their own insecticides.

***

Just say no to GMOs? Advocates hope to put ban on 2014 ballot

Catherine Wong/The Times-Standard

Ten years after legal flaws sent an anti-GMOs measure to a withering end at the ballot box, a new group is looking to bring the issue back before voters in November 2014.

The Committee for GMO Free Humboldt is scheduled to meet today from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Co-op Community Kitchen in Arcata to gather final feedback before submitting the initiative to the county by the end of this week.

Committee for GMO Free Humboldt spokesman Bill Shaser said he hopes to create an economic advantage in California with GMO-free produce, adding that neighboring Mendocino and Trinity counties already have bans. He said a ban would lower the risk of contaminating non-GMO produce with GMO genetics through cross-pollination.

”The main point that I have is economic advantage,” Shaser said. “I see it in the big picture of an economic zone that is GMO-free.”

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, generally refer to products genetically changed to produce new characteristics, such as increased size or insect resistance.

The committee’s current draft would make it a public nuisance to “propagate, cultivate, raise or grow” GMOs in the county. The proposed initiative also states that GMO products would still be legal to purchase, sell or conduct research on.

A similar measure in 2004 failed on Election Day after its authors pulled their support and urged a no vote due to language that called on the county agricultural commissioner to arrest anyone caught growing or possessing genetically modified seeds or crops. While the draft of the current proposed initiative does not take non-compliance to the same level, the enforcement issue is raising some concerns.

Humboldt County Agriculture Commissioner Jeff Dolf submitted a six-point letter to the committee, stating that his office does not have anyone on staff who could be considered a genetics expert and that the initiative failed to address funding or procedures for investigations.

”Under what authority would the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office conduct inspections and collect samples as part of an investigation?” he asked, adding that the “time frame for notification, investigation and determination that a violation has been committed … is unreasonably short given the complexity of investigating and proving violations of an ordinance pertaining to genetic material.”

Shaser responded that violations would fall under the same laws for nuisance abatement, and evidence would be provided by the person making the complaint.

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said he has some questions about how a ban would impact ranchers and farmers.

”Scientifically speaking, there is just as much pro as there is con,” he said. “The big thing for our area is feed corn.”

Bohn said Mendocino and Trinity counties have a different agricultural base than Humboldt.

”They’re not dairy counties,” he said. “I could probably count on one hand all the dairy farms in Trinity, and I know I can in Mendocino.”

For more information, visit gmofreehumboldt.org or facebook.com/GMOFreeHumboldt.

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