Humboldt County "Genetic Contamination Prevention Ordinance" GMO Ban Initiative, Measure P (November 2014)
|Voting on the Environment|
|Not on ballot|
The Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt has requested and received an official ballot title and summary for an initiative measure that would, if successful, "prohibit the propagation, cultivation, raising, or growing of genetically modified organisms in Humboldt County." The ordinance enacted by the approval of this measure would classify the growth of genetically modified organisms as a public nuisance and would dictate that violations be referred to the county agricultural commissioner. In the event of a violation, the genetically modified materials would be confiscated or destroyed and a fine would possibly be imposed. In cases of a citizen making an allegation of GMO growing activity, the person with the complaint would be required to show convincing evidence of the violation.
The Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt needs only 4,300 valid signatures to qualify their ordinance for a voter decision, but leaders of the committee hopes to collect between 8,000 and 10,000 signatures before Earth Day on April 22.
Bill Schaser, spokesperson for the Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt, indicated that a the committee does not know what to expect in terms of opposition to the ordinance. Referring to chemical and agricultural industry lobbying groups that have spent large amounts of money in opposition to GMO labeling laws, GMO bans and other GMO restrictions, Schaser said, "I don't know what forces will come in here. Maybe the big boys will ignore us, but we have to be prepared.” The campaign is looking to raise an initial $10,000 to begin campaigning for the measure, once it qualifies for the ballot.
Text of measure
The official ballot title is:
The official summary is as follows:
The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to prohibit the propagation, cultivation, raising, or growing of genetically modified organisms in Humboldt County. The ordinance would make it unlawful for any person, partnership, corporation, firm, or legal entity of any kind to cultivate, raise, or grow genetically modified organisms in Humboldt County. A Genetically modified organism is defined as an organism, or the offspring of an organism, the DNA of which has been altered through genetic engineering. The ordinance does not apply to organisms created by traditional breeding or hybridization, or to microorganisms created by moving genes or gene segments between unrelated bacteria. The proposed ordinance places the primary enforcement responsibility on the Agricultural Commissioner of Humboldt County. The ordinance provides for the confiscation and destruction of organisms found to be prohibited by the ordinance and authorizes the Agricultural Commissioner to impose a monetary penalty on the person or entity responsible for the violation. The Agricultural Commissioner is obligated to notify the responsible person or entity when organisms are subject to confiscation and destruction. Such persons or entities would have thirty (30) days to respond to such notification with evidence that such person or entity is not in violation. The Agricultural Commissioner would have discretion to extend the time available to present evidence when additional time is reasonably required to gather and submit required evidence.
Any violation of this ordinance shall constitute a public nuisance. Upon a finding of continuing nuisance, the Agricultural Commissioner would have authority to immediately order the destruction or permanent removal of any such genetically engineered organisms.
The full text of the ordinance is available here.
There are currently very few genetically altered products grown in Humboldt County. The only area of agriculture that uses GMO seeds widely is feed corn growers who use "Roundup-ready" corn especially to sell as dairy cattle food. Schaser has said that he has heard that there are between 80 and several hundred acres of GMO crops in the whole county, depending on who you talk to for an estimate.
According to reports, however, GMO corn or other GMO seeds can be easily spread from field to field through pollination and shared farm equipment. The genetic modification in use creates plans that are resistant to glyphosate, commonly known as "Roundup" and used to kill weeds, allowing fields to crops to be spraying with the herbicide without damaging the productive plants. Schaser spoke about the fact that tiny amounts of chemicals, although not harming the genetically modified plants, does remain in the cells of the plants and is ingested by animals and humans who eat the crops. And, although glyphosate is thought to be harmless only to plants and not humans, some studies allegedly show long-term toxic effects to beneficial bacteria in the human body helpful for digestion, absorption of nutrients, and resistance to infections.
The Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt is sponsoring and backing the initiative.
Arguments in favor
The committee gave these reasons for supporting the initiative:
The Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt is working to get an initiative on the November 2014 ballot that would prohibit the cultivation and production of GMOs in Humboldt County. We are an all-volunteer, grassroots effort. Here’s what moves us:
We want to ensure that the many farmers and gardeners in our county who choose to plant non-GMO seeds won’t have to worry about the genetic contamination of their crops.
We want to boost our County’s economy by helping local farmers gain access to the growing market for GMO-free food, and by minimizing the risk of organic farmers losing their certifications.
We want to prevent the potentially devastating and irreversible effects that new GMOs could have on local ecosystems.
According to the GMO Free Humboldt committee website:
This ordinance will help protect our organic farmers from the risk of losing their certifications due to genetic contamination. It will also help ensure that all of our farmers can have access to the growing market for GMO-free products. Although GMO products represent only a small amount of the county’s agriculture, GMO corn kernels or other GMO seeds can be unintentionally carried from field to field in farm equipment or spread by pollination.
Schaser, a spokesman for GMO Free Humboldt, said, ”I’m not opposed to biotech. My big push is the question, ‘Is [a GMO ban] in our best interest for Humboldt County’s economic development?’”
He also pointed to the success of local, organic farmers for whom it is important to be able to guarantee the GMO free status of their products, as their clients are willing to pay more for GMO free and organic foods. Schaser said that the sale of local organic products totaled $44 million in 2011. He also indicated that it was becoming more and more difficult for farmers to find non-MGO seeds every year.
- Colorado Mandatory Labeling of GMOs Initiative (2014)
- Oregon Mandatory Labeling of GMOs Initiative (2014)
- California Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food (2012)
- Oregon Labeling of Genetically-Engineered Foods, Measure 27 (2002)
- Washington Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Measure, Initiative 522 (2013)
- Humboldt County, California ballot measures
- Local GMO on the ballot
- Recent GMO related local measures
- Redwood Times, "GMO Free Humboldt launches signature drive for Nov. ballot measure," December 20, 2014
- GMO Free Humboldt committee website, accessed January 21, 2014
- GMO Free Humboldt, Measure Ballot title and Summary, accessed January 21, 2014
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.