Hell No, GMO
Environmentalists and organic farmers collect signatures to ban genetically modified organisms in Monterey County.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
A group of environmental activists and organic farmers are stepping up their campaign to ban genetically modified organisms in Monterey County – and they’ve got Supervisor Dave Potter’s attention.
Potter recently asked the county’s agricultural commissioner and director of environmental health to consider a GMO moratorium similar to Santa Cruz County’s. Potter, who jokes that he wishes Supervisor/dairy farmer Lou Calcagno would have led the charge because of Potter’s own ignorance on agriculture issues, says he doesn’t have on opinion on whether the county should be GMO-free. “The allegation is that there are GMO applications going on,” he says. “I want to hear if that is actually the case.”
Green Agriculture, a new sustainable farming alliance, is leading the GMO moratorium effort. The group says planting of genetically modified crops don’t have to be disclosed by government agencies, and points to the dangers of inadequate testing for GMO health effects: the absence of safeguards for cross contamination and lack of labeling requirement for GMO foods.
“GMOs tend to contaminate other organisms, and once that happens it’s too late. You can’t reverse it,” says Daniella Russo, a Green Agriculture organizer and wife of John Russo, founder of Stop The Spray. Daniella adds contamination could devastate the county’s organic produce.
Although Assistant Agricultural Commissioner Bob Roach says he doesn’t know of any GMO crops in Monterey County, he admits that he wouldn’t receive a courtesy call from the federal agencies that regulate them. “I wouldn’t know unless someone notified us, and they are not obligated to do so,” Roach says.
Some ag officials – including Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue – don’t see GMOs as a present threat, and want to leave the door open for genetic crop research. Donohue has been trying to bring higher-paying pharmaceutical and biotech jobs to Salinas as part of his economic development agenda. (Roach says the Santa Cruz ordinance exempts medical GMO research done in indoor, licensed labs.)
Last year Monsanto-weary activists took their concerns to the county’s Agricultural Advisory Committee but the committee members didn’t tip their farmers caps either way. They did, however, vote to support state Assembly Bill 541, which protects farmers whose crops have been contaminated with patented seeds from facing lawsuits from biotech companies
Supervisor Simón Salinas, who represents the Salinas Valley, wants to see the county’s research before saying how he would vote on a hypothetical GMO ban. But he says he does take issue with the lack of notification for GMO use: “I would be concerned about someone doing something in our backyard without us knowing about it.”
Alex Sancen, an organic farmer who grows on Salinas land owned by Agriculture Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), says his farmers market customers want to be protected from genetically modified crops. “There are so many people worried about allergies about different illnesses because of the GMOs,” Sancen says. “They don’t want GMOs on foods. They want labeling.”
Salinas expects the issue to come before the County Supes before the end of summer. Daniella says Green Agriculture is collecting petition signatures for the GMO ban (including 43 members for the Facebook cause). She emphasizes that the moratorium is precautionary and could be undone if and when there is better science and protections for farmers and consumers.