With the official petitions in hand, more than 20 Southern Humboldt volunteers will fan out across the county and even the state to collect enough signatures to get a GMO-labeling initiative on the June Primary ballot.
Genetically modified organisms are contained in most prepared foods sold in supermarkets but their presence is exempted from being included in the list of ingredients required on all foods. The purpose of the initiative is to require listing GMO-substances along with the other ingredients.
Over 2,000 volunteers are working statewide. The Southern Humboldt group is one of the larger volunteer contingents, outnumbering their Northern Humboldt cohorts.
The campaign to qualify the initiative began on Saturday, Feb. 18 with a goal of collecting 850,000 valid signatures.
Co-leaders Rosa Rashall and Isis Austin told the volunteers the statewide goal is 85,000 signatures a week. The local signature gatherers have a goal of 10,000 signatures over the next eight weeks. The campaign will end around April 18.
All the volunteers signed forms not to misuse the information collected and were reminded of the rules of signature gathering, especially the necessity of a physical address that matches the voter’s registration. When all the lines on the petition have been filled out, the petitions must be signed by the volunteer collector. A website has been established to allow the collectors to share information, plan their schedules and coordinate with the Northern Humboldt volunteers. Volunteers from this area will be covering local areas from Shelter Cove, Whitethorn, Whale Gulch, Honeydew, Petrolia, Harris and Piercy to Miranda and communities along the Avenue of the Giants. Some volunteers will be working in the Fortuna area and helping the Northern Humboldt gatherers. Several are traveling south to the Bay Area to collect signatures there.
Rashall and Austin had already begun signature gathering at Ray’s Food Place in Garberville. One of the reactions they encountered was a tendency of shoppers to change course for another door when they spotted Rashall with her clipboard. The recommendation is for people to team up and cover both doors. The two local markets, both Ray’s Food Place and Shop Smart have agreed to allow signature gathering outside their stores. The Eureka and Arcata Co-ops and Eureka Natural Foods will have tables set up inside the store for use of signature gatherers.
Look for signature gatherers at local post offices as well, especially in smaller communities.
Locally, signature gatherers will also be setting up in the Town Square and in front of local businesses supportive of the labeling campaign.
Another issue for signature gatherers is the response that “I’ve already signed that.” Rashall stressed that the petitions have not and will not be circulated online and that signature gathering has only just begun, so people may be confusing it with other petitions. This early in the campaign it is unlikely that many have signed.
Also stressed was the importance of not collecting duplicate signatures. The organization can be penalized for too many duplicate signatures.
Rashall said that gatherers should not set up anywhere without getting permission and that their purpose is not to challenge any property owner about their right to set up. She said their purpose is not to get arrested by challenging business owners.
The volunteers were also encouraged to read the initiative, Some had not done so as yet. Austin and Rashall said it was important to read the initiative so as to be able to talk about what is in the initiative. From the reaction of the volunteers, some had not read it. The initiative does not outlaw GMOs but only requires that products sold in grocery stores carry a label to let the consumer know when GMO products are present.
All of the volunteers were given official clipboards, badges identifying them as volunteers, pens, signs for their tables and T-shirts made especially for the campaign. Volunteers are being asked to attend a weekly meeting at Calico’s in Garberville to turn in their petitions. A drop-off box has also been set up at the KMUD studio in Redway, and volunteers are encouraged to stay in touch with each other at the campaign website.