Push To Ban Genetically Engineering In Marin
By Karen Nakamura
Source: Coastal Post Online
An important movement is afoot in Marin County and it's one all Marinites need to heed. Until June 15, petitioners will be on the streets and in front of supermarkets asking for signatures to place a measure on the November 2004 ballot. This measure, if passed, would ban genetically engineered crops from being grown in Marin County.
Its official title is the Marin County Ordiance Prohibiting the Growing of Genetically Modified Organisms. In summery, the petition states that it would be "unlawful for any person or entity to propagate, cultivate, raise or grow genetically modified organisms in Marin County." That includes organisms and any offspring.
The terms "entity" and "organism" are important here, as they would, in effect, also ban the development of laboratory testing and experimental plots in the county. Since the introduction of GMO into agricultural, seeds containing engineered DNA have been found in more and more fields with the potential of damaging cultivated and wild plants and working up the food chain with possible serious results. There are also questions of who owns the food we eat and the ability to export American farm products. Consumer/farmer resistance to GMO is especially strong in Japan, South Korea and Europe, all large importers of American food products.
Following the lead of a similar, and successful, Mendocino County ballot on March 2, 2004, Marin is one of 12 counties where petitions are being distributed with the same goal of banning engineered plant life. Sonoma, Napa, Humboldt, Butte and San Luis Obispo counties are only a few. This is an important statewide, grass-roots effort.
California is not the only state where a ground swell of opposition to the introduction of genetically modified crops into local agricultural lands is growing. In North Dakota, a current petition is circulating to give the state the authority to ban GMO. The state fears agricultural profits will plummet due to decreased exports. With the Midwest as a main supplier of world's wheat and corn, Minnesota is pushing for similar GMO bans. Fifty townships in Pennsylvania have passed ordinances banning the expansion of factory farms as they tend to use GMO.
Speaking for GMO Free Marin, supporters of the local petition, Craig Slater stated that the organization was taking its lead from Mendicino's success. Ellen Drell, one of the coordinators of the Mendocino petition, has even met in Fairfax with petitioners to educate them on the fine points. Slater says, "The growth of this movement is nearly if not greater than the opposition to the Patriot Act. People all over the US are fighting against genetically engineered crops."
One of the big problems with GMO is that they are hard to contain. They're already frequently found in fields surrounding GMO plots. Altered seed has even been found as far away as several miles.
In Canada, for example, an organic farmer was sued by Monsanto for using Monsanto's GMO seed in his fields without a proper license. Problem was the organic farmer didn't want the seeds in his crops. They ruined his organic certification. Seed had blown on the wind onto his land unwanted and unasked for and he was sued for it. Monsanto has introduced a program in India where farmers buy the license to use the "Golden Seed" on their fields. They own the license not the seed. Problem here is that rather than the usual buy some seed, grow it and gather more seed from mature plants, Indian farmers aren't allowed to reuse the seed without proper license and paying its accompanying fee.
One victory against Monsanto though, has been registered. Monsanto pulled its Round-Up Ready Wheat product. Ronnie Cummins, the National Director of Organic Consumers Association (organicconsumers.org) states that "This is a bitter defeat for Monsanto and a well deserved victory for family farmers and consumers."
For all these reasons, Marin activists are trying to get the petition on the ballot. Many environmentalists and local farmers are supporting the measure, among them Albert Strauss of the West Marin dairy farm family. The county already has strict pesticide regulations preferring to use organic substances to deal with insect infestation whenever possible.
The cut off date on signature gathering is June 15. At that time, Slater says they'll need 12,000 signatures. "That's a lot of signatures and I admit we got started a little late. Although only 9,000 signatures are legally required, there needs to be a back up for safety against any unregistered signatures being thrown out. What we really need is petitioners, right now! We have to get 400-500 signatures per day."
If you can get out there for the next two weeks, even for a couple hours a week, it would help. Petitioners should have no trouble getting people to sign. They just have to get out there for this very important ordinance to be put on the ballot. If you can't help, please, at least. sign the petition for all our sakes.
To pick up a petition or for more information, stop by GMO Free Marin at 1966 Sir Francis Drake, Fairfax, call them at (415) 454-9898 or check out their web site at http://www.gmofreemarin.org. Their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.