Bryn J. Robertson
Mad River Union
ARCATA – After months of critical planning and weekly meetings, the GMO Free Humboldt committee submitted its initiative to ban the cultivation or production of genetically modified organisms in Humboldt to the county for review.
With limited time to gain public support, should the initiative pass review and gain a spot on the upcoming 2014 ballot, the battle to ban biotech crops is far from over.
Earlier this month, the group drafted and distributed copies of the proposed ban language to farmers, business owners and other stakeholders for input, support and critical analysis.
The draft was withheld from the news media, though a copy provided to the county was obtained and published in the Union.
Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Doff responded to the draft ban with a letter to the committee regarding his concerns on funding and potential violation of the proposed legislation. Doff argued that the time frame for notification, investigation and determination that a violation has been made is “unreasonably short given the complexity of investigation,” especially considering that some cases could call for laboratory tests.
Doff also added that no apparent source of funding to “cover the costs incurred by the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office for enforcing the proposed ordinance have been addressed by the draft,” citing vehicle costs, inspector time and laboratory charges associated with testing as potential unfunded expenses.
In a letter composed by the committee, Spokesman Bill Schaser responded to Doff’s concerns in a larger effort to clear the air.
“We first respectfully note that this is not a criminal ordinance, and the standards for criminal evidence need not necessarily apply,” Schaser said.
The duration for lab testing, he continued, is generally a quick four- to five-day turnaround through the Portland OMIC testing facility, a portion of the 30-day window proposed in the ban draft.
“We believe that it is best to rely on existing rules and procedures, which have been tested and proven over time, wherever possible,” Schaser continued. “In other words, we chose not to “reinvent the wheel,” but rather to rely on existing nuisance abatement procedures to complete the details of the enforcement program not laid out in the ordinance itself.”
Paul Giuntoli, a longtime organic farmer in both Arcata and Blue Lake voiced his support of the Committee’s efforts after receiving a copy of the draft.
“If someone nearby plants GMOs, an organic farmer can have their crop contaminated with GMO pollen through no fault of their own,” Giuntoli said. “There’s nothing that farmer could do about it. This poses a serious risk to the livelihoods of local organic farmers, and to Humboldt County’s entire sustainable agriculture industry. That’s one reason this proposed ordinance is so important.”
The next steps to gain local public support included fundraising and community outreach, both of which the committee prioritized at their meeting last Wednesday at the Co-op Community Kitchen in Arcata. The group declared the first portion of the public meeting “off the record,” and not reportable.
During the second portion, Assistant Treasurer Colin Fiske announced the new fundraising initiative. “Our goal is to raise $10,000 by the New Year to prevent expending effort on fundraisings,” Fiske said.
Costs of the campaign include newspaper notice fees, print petitions and fliers, and paraphernalia for volunteers to wear including T-shirts and buttons. With its initial fundraising effort launched, the committee hopes to have a task force of volunteers by early December to raise the remaining necessary funds.
For more on the GMO Free Humboldt Committee and its campaign visit gmofreehumboldt.org for information on the meeting schedule and other events.