Melanie Bettenhausen has been working with our Marketing, Membership and Merchandising team to determine the best way for the Board to support the proposed ordinance that would effectively ban the cultivation and production of GMO crops in Humboldt County.
While everyone on our team is personally in support of it, there seems to be hesitancy when asked if support is the right thing for the Co-op. The concern stems from how broad this topic can be and how it will play out on the sales floor (specifically with staff who may not fully understand the issue or the Board’s stance) and the media.
Our team agreed that support should be based on and limited to support of our organic farmers and not get into a scientific debate about GMOs, nor the potential health risks of GMOs. We have, up to this point, focused on meeting consumer demand for labeling and feel comfortable maintaining that focus while continuing to provide education and information to let consumers make personal choices.
We can see there is a strong demand for organic produce, especially local produce, and we meet that demand better than any other grocer in the county (see CAFF’s report “Increasing Access to Local Produce for Low-Income Populations in Humboldt County: Supply, Demand, and Potential Models for Distribution”). Annually, the Co-op sells more than $3 million in local produce.
We believe that the proposed ordinance to ban GMOs in Humboldt County would go a long way toward protecting our organic farmers. We know that North Coast Growers Association (NCGA) already pledges to be GMO free and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), who works closely with NCGA farmers, also has a statement on GMOs.
NCGA’s total membership, including non-agriculture members is about 100. Of their total members, about 81 are “specialty crop” farmers, meaning they grow fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, or food plants. Of their “produce” farmers, about 22 percent of them sell to the Co-op. Similarly, more than 75 percent of the local farmers the Co-op works with are NCGA members.
All in all, 80 percent of the farmers the Co-op purchases from—NCGA members or not—are certified organic; the rest practice organic standards, but for financial or other reasons have not pursued certification.
Survey Results: Our Co-op members are also in support of the proposed GMO ban. The results of the member survey we put in the November Co-op News and in stores showed that of the 86 respondents, 65 are in support of a GMO ban and six said no.
Additionally, 15 members did not indicate support one way or the other.
Based on the above data, it seems the Co-op should support GMO Free Humboldt, but the support should be clearly defined. Some questions to consider:
1. Does support mean political support? For example: Will the Co-op show up to Board of Supervisors meetings to
2. Does support mean special tabling status? For example: Will the Co-op allow GMO Free Humboldt to table inside of
our stores as we did with Prop 37?
3. Does support mean monetary support? For example: How much cash is the Co-op willing to donate? Will the Co-op
contribute advertising support? Will the Co-op provide staff for tabling and/or other related events?
4. What is the Co-op’s official statement for its website, staff training and the media?
5. IF the Board does not support the ban, why not?
Melanie’s recommendation is for the Board to identify a committee to work with her on these questions, and that a solid statement of support warrants further discussion and a review of the questions indicated above. Although petition signatures are already being gathered, time must be taken to ensure that when our members and the media call, we have good answers.
– Submitted by Melanie Bettenhausen