Times-Standard: Anti-GMO advocates submit initiative to county

Another article from Catherine Wong at the Times-Standard.  We’re a little disappointed that she didn’t interview any of the farmers who support our initiative, but be sure to read to the end for Bill’s response to Mr. Senestraro’s objections.

Anti-GMO advocates submit initiative to county: Local dairy farmer voices opposition

Catherine Wong/The Times-Standard

With an initiative that would ban the production of GMOs within Humboldt County filed with the Elections Office, advocates aiming to get the issue on the November 2014 ballot are now waiting for the county to take the next step.

”It’s about control of the seed,” Bill Schaser, a retired high school science teacher and spokesman for the Committee for GMO Free Humboldt, said. “Henry Kissinger said, ‘If you control the food, you control the people.’ And I think that’s true.”

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, generally refer to products changed on a genetic level to produce new qualities, such as insect resistance or increased size.

Schaser said only a few major companies hold patents on most of the GMOs out in the market today, and that a ban could lower the risk of contaminating non-GMO produce with patented genetics through cross-pollination.

The committee’s proposed ordinance — submitted to the county on Friday — would make it a public nuisance to “propagate, cultivate, raise or grow” GMOs in the county. It states that GMO products would still be legal to purchase, sell or conduct research on. It also states that animals that have been given GMO food or drugs would not be considered GMOs.

Schaser said the authors of the initiative tried to stay away from the health controversy that follows the GMO debate.

”This is about creating an economic zone,” he said, adding that neighboring Mendocino and Trinity counties already have similar bans on GMO production. “The non-GMO verified market is expanding.”

Schaser said the committee is aiming to raise $10,000 by the end of the year in order to campaign for the signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot. He added that formal presentations to the Board of Supervisors and various city councils are being prepared as well.

Currently, the group is waiting for county counsel to write a ballot title and summary. After receiving both, proponents will have 180 days to collect signatures in order to get the measure on the November 2014 ballot.

Humboldt County Farm Bureau Executive Director Katherine Zeimer said the bureau has not taken a stance, because its members are on both sides of the issue.

Gene Senestraro, an 85-year-old Elk River Valley dairy farmer and member of the bureau, said he doesn’t think GMOs should be banned within the county.

”They’ve been able to improve crops by modifying them,” he said. “This is not a major corn area, but people have been able to raise corn here because of the modifications.”

First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said that because technology is constantly advancing, he is concerned a production ban could prevent the county from embracing GMOs in the future if they become more widely accepted. He added that one of the “big things” for Humboldt County dairy farmers when it comes to GMOs is feed corn.

Senestraro said he attempted to grow corn when he graduated from high school, but harvested the crop for the stalks for fodder because he knew the ears wouldn’t ripen correctly.

”We tried for years, and it didn’t work,” he said. “Corn is just not viable here. It’s still not a corn area, but modified corn would give us more of a chance.”

Schaser said he thinks one of the obstacles behind the anti-GMO movement is that many people think hybridization, or the crossbreeding of two similar species, is the same as genetic modification, which involves inserting genetic material from one organism into another.

”Increased crop yield comes from hybridization,” he said. “Genetic modification doesn’t have squat to do with yield.”

He added that people are also seeing a GMO production ban as a property rights issue.

”They don’t want us telling them what to plant,” he said. “But if there’s a GMO farm that’s 6 or 7 miles down the road, that pollen will still get to you or your neighbor.”

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


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