Arcata City Council ponders GMOs, waste

Benjamin Fordham
Mad River Union

ARCATA – The Arcata City Council tackled a bevy of topics during its Sept. 17 meeting, including solid waste collection services and the first in a series of presentations on Measure P, the ballot measure that would ban GMO crops in Humboldt County.

GMO debate

The council hosted two speakers to discuss Measure P, the Genetic Contamination Prevention Ordinance, one in favor of and one opposed to the measure. If the measure passes, GMOs will be classified as a public nuisance and would not be allowed to be grown in the county.

The first presenter was Bill Schaser, a spokesperson for the Committee for a GMO-Free Humboldt, who spoke in favor of the measure. Schaser opened by saying that Measure P was not meant to be an attack on biotechnology. “We look at Measure P as an economic opportunity for this county,” Schaser said.

“The ethos of Humboldt County happens to be organic,” said Schaser, who echoed a common concern that “organic farms are prohibited from using genetically engineered seeds or feed, and yet have no protection against possible unintended trans-genetic contamination.”

Schaser also said that Jackson and Jefferson counties in Oregon have recently passed similar measures. “The [biotech companies] are coming in at the state level… this is probably our last opportunity to maintain our own food sovereignty in Humboldt County.”

The next presenter, in opposition to the measure, was HSU biologist Mark Wilson, a professor of microbiology and genetics at HSU. Wilson opened by stating that he had no ties to the agricultural biotech industry, and that while he supports agriculture reform and the weakening of corporate control, he is concerned that GMOs have become “the boogeyman.”

“I strongly support sustainable agriculture, but genetic engineering, as a system for generating new cultivars, has no inherent role in those political issues,” said Wilson, who highlighted the benefits of GMOs, including the production of insulin to treat diabetes.

He warned that, by ignoring the benefits of GMOs, organic farming could stray into “a less sustainable, less healthy, superstition and quasi-religious based system of production.”

Wilson also chastised those he classified as seeking to grow their own businesses at the expense of scientific knowledge. “Don’t vote out of fear or greed,” he said. “We’re going to need every tool we have to meet future challenges.”

While the council as a whole took no action on the issue, councilmembers Susan Ornelas and Michael Winkler both voiced their support for the measure. Ornelas, who is a farmer and rancher in Bayside, donned her cowboy hat as she spoke of the effects GMOs could potentially have. “I’m a real fan of local agriculture,” she said. “I find the GMO crops can really threaten that.”

“There are a lot of issues that are very real to us here,” said Ornelas.

After the meeting, Councilmember Alex Stillman said she also supported the measure, and said the council could explore similar measures on coal and fracking. “We’re really fooling around with nature and we should be really careful,” Stillman said.

Recycling simplification

The council also directed staff to move ahead with changes to the city’s recycling collection from a dual-stream to a single stream system, wherein recyclables are collected in a single bin and sorted at a facility. Eureka, McKinleyville, Humboldt State and the county recently moved to single stream collection.

“Switching to single-stream will allow customers to choose any size cart they need, and they will no longer have the heavy lids or center divider,” said Arcata Environmental Services Deputy Director Karen Diemer.

The move will save the city money, which they will use to add services, including a bulky item pick-up, pilot greenwaste collection program, and bins to support community creek, trail and forest cleanup events. The council also approved a five-year extension of the city’s contract with the Arcata Garbage Company.

The council also addressed the alignment of the intersection at Ninth and N streets, where they redirected staff to work to create a mid-block road alignment between M and N streets. The Los Harbors Subdivision, Arcata Recovery Center, and a small wetland are all in the area. “The City Council really went with the citizens and what their needs are,” Ornelas said.

There was also a public hearing to receive input on unmet transportation needs, and the council adopted resolutions honoring Sept. 21 as the International Day of Peace and Sept. 27 as National Public Lands Day.

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