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The Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt submitted more than 8,500 signatures to the County Elections Office last week on a petition to prohibit the cultivation or production of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the county. The initiative is called the Humboldt County Genetic Contamination Prevention Ordinance. It would prohibit “propagating, cultivating, raising or growing” GMOs, but would not prevent food that is made with genetically engineered ingredients from being sold in grocery stores.

According to the Elections Office, 4,387 valid signatures are required to put an ordinance like this on the ballot. Signatures are considered valid if the person’s name, signature, and address match the official voter file maintained by the Elections Office. The signatures are checked by the Elections Office, and some are inevitably invalidated. With nearly double the required number of signatures, however, the GMO Free Humboldt initiative is almost certain to appear on this November’s ballot.

”This initiative will really give a boost to our local food system and our local economy,” said Rick Littlefield, owner of Eureka Natural Foods. “Organic, natural, non-GMO - these are really key selling points for local farmers and producers marketing their products both here in Humboldt and beyond the redwood curtain. They command a premium and help our local businesses survive and thrive.”

Farmers can lose access to those markets and those premiums if GMOs are being grown nearby, raising the risk of their fields being contaminated by stray pollen or seeds. “We think that joining our neighbors in Mendocino and Trinity [where similar ordinances are already in place] to create a real GMO-free zone on the North Coast is the best thing Humboldt County could do to support our local family farmers and strengthen our agricultural economy,” said Bill Schaser, a Eureka resident and retired high school science teacher and spokesperson for GMO Free Humboldt. “Clearly, a lot of people agree with us. The support we’ve received has been tremendous. The number of volunteers who signed up to help and the sheer numbers of signatures they collected speaks to that. And we’ve also had a lot of endorsements and a lot of very generous donations to the cause.” A list of endorsers on the group’s website contains the names of over 120 farms, businesses, nonprofits and individuals.

Two of those endorsers, Eureka Natural Foods and the North Coast Co-op, provided permanent tables inside their stores where GMO Free Humboldt volunteers could collect signatures. Over the last several months, the group organized and trained nearly 100 such volunteers for the task. Those volunteers logged thousands of hours, not just at the natural food stores, but also at other local businesses, attending local events, and talking to friends and family about the initiative.

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. For more information about GMO Free Humboldt, visit www.gmofreehumboldt.org.

A list of farmers willing to speak with the media about GMOs in Humboldt County follows:

-Mel Kreb, Flood Plain Produce - Pepperwood, 707-722-4330, Floodplain@asis.com.

-Kevin and Melanie Cunningham, Shakefork Community Farm - Carlotta, 707-498-3546 or 707-834-5001, ShakeforkCommunityFarm@gmail.com.

-Jacques Neukom, Newkom Family Farm - Willow Creek, 530-629-1909, spinningweb@hotmail.com.

-John LaBoyteaux, Camp Grant Ranch - Redcrest, 707-496-3270, helenthemelon@earthlink.net

-John Gary, Organic Matters Ranch - Eureka, 707-407-3276 or 707-498-2319, heyheath@hotmail.com.

-Paul Giuntoli, Warren Creek Farm - Blue Lake/Arcata, 707-834-8008, Giuntolifarms@suddenlink.net.

Photo caption:

GMO Free Humboldt spokesperson Bill Schaser with petitions at Humboldt County Elections Office.