LOCAL GROUP FILES GMO ORDINANCE
Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt Takes First Step Toward 2014 Ballot
EUREKA – A local grassroots group filed an ordinance today at the Humboldt County Elections Office which, if enacted, would prohibit the cultivation or production of genetically engineered organisms in the county. “As soon as we get the go-ahead from the county, we plan to start collecting signatures to get the Humboldt County Genetic Contamination Prevention Ordinance on the 2014 ballot,” said Bill Schaser, a Eureka resident, retired high school science teacher and spokesperson for the Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt.
Genetically engineered organisms, often called “genetically modified organisms” or GMOs, are 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. The most widespread GMOs today are crop plants engineered to resist the effects of certain herbicides or to produce their own insecticides.
“GMOs are not allowed in organic agriculture,” said Paul Giuntoli, a long-time organic farmer in Arcata and Blue Lake. “But if someone nearby plants GMOs, an organic farmer can have their crop contaminated with GMO pollen through no fault of their own. There’s nothing that farmer could do about it. This poses a serious risk to the livelihoods of local organic farmers, and to Humboldt County’s entire sustainable agriculture industry. That’s one reason this proposed ordinance is so important.”
Organic producers account for a large and growing share of the county’s agricultural output. In 2011, according to a report from the County Agricultural Commissioner, the value of Humboldt County’s organic produce topped $44 million. But organic farmers aren’t the only ones supporting the GMO Free Humboldt effort.
“GMO-free is a big part of our company’s future,” said Ryan Nylander, whose family owns Redwood Meat Company. The Eureka slaughterhouse handles 95% of the county’s locally grown organic and grass-fed beef. “With this ordinance, Humboldt County will take a big step toward establishing its brand as a producer of sustainable beef and other products,” said Nylander. “It will help ensure that we have access to key GMO-free markets.”
Now that the ordinance has been filed, the county has fifteen days to produce an official ballot title and summary. Soon after that, the proponents can start collecting signatures. They’ll have to gather the signatures of more than four thousand registered Humboldt County voters by early next summer to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.
If voters approve the measure, the county will join Mendocino, Trinity, Marin and Santa Cruz Counties, as well as the City of Arcata, all of which already have similar GMO prohibitions in place. Like those ordinances, the Humboldt County initiative would prohibit “propagating, cultivating, raising or growing” GMOs, but would not prevent food that’s made with genetically engineered ingredients from being sold in grocery stores.
“Growing GMOs in our county poses a threat to our local organic farmers and an unnecessary risk for the future of Humboldt’s sustainable agriculture industry,” said Schaser. “Organic and GMO-free products are increasingly demanded by consumers. Creating a GMO-free zone to meet that need is a win-win for our county. This ordinance protects our local economy, our farmers, and our environment. We think this is something everyone can get behind.”
Bill Schaser, spokesperson for the Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt, files the Committee’s new Genetic Contamination Prevention Ordinance at the Humboldt County Elections Office on Friday.