GMO Free Humboldt qualifies for ballot

EUREKA >> The Humboldt County Genetic Contamination Prevention Ordinance has officially qualified for the November 2014 ballot, according to Humboldt County elections officials. The grassroots initiative is being organized by local residents to protect family farms and the environment from contamination by GMO plants, seeds and pollen. The ordinance 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.

Last month, the Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt submitted the initiative to the county with more than 8,500 signatures. That was nearly double the number required. Now, according to a letter from Humboldt County elections manager Kelly Sanders to the group, the county has verified the submitted signatures and determined that the number is "sufficient to proceed with the initiative process."

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to consider the proposed ordinance at their regular meeting today. According to state law, the supervisors can either place the ordinance on the November ballot, or adopt it immediately with no changes.

"Over the last several months, we organized and trained nearly 100 volunteers to help gather signatures," said Bill Schaser, a Eureka resident, retired high school science teacher and spokesperson for GMO Free Humboldt. "Those volunteers logged thousands of hours collecting all those signatures and talking to folks about the initiative. This news from the elections office is just a great validation of all the hard work everyone has put into this initiative so far."

Added Schaser, "We'd be very happy to see the supervisors adopt the ordinance immediately. Our attitude is: 'why wait?' But if they do put it on the ballot, we're confident the voters will approve it in November."

Proponents say the ordinance is necessary to support local organic and non-GMO farmers. Those farmers can lose access to their markets if GMOs grown nearby contaminate their fields with stray pollen or seeds. "We think this is the best thing Humboldt County could do to support our local family farmers and strengthen our agricultural economy," said Schaser. Many local farmers appear to agree. A list of well over 100 endorsements on the group's website includes more than 40 local farms and ranches, as well as agricultural groups such as the North Coast Growers Association and the Organic Seed Alliance.

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.

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