OpED – Sonoma County can Join Northern California Coastal GMO Free Zone

Sonoma County can Join Northern California Coastal GMO Free Zone

There is a grassroots movement afoot in Sonoma County to join our neighbors to the north and south in creating a Coastal GMO Free Zone.  Volunteers for “Citizens for Healthy Farms and Families” can be spotted all over the county collecting signatures to qualify the “Sonoma County Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance” for the ballot in November.  This ordinance would prohibit the “propagation, cultivation, raising or growing of genetically engineered organisms in Sonoma County.”

Roundup-ready, genetically engineered crops (corn) and grasses (alfalfa, blue grass & fescue) are already moving into Sonoma County.  New crops are awaiting approval. This ban on genetically engineered crops is needed in order to protect Sonoma County organic and conventional agriculture from contamination by genetically engineered plant pollen. Without this protection, our families, water and wildlife will continue to suffer from negative health and environmental effects associated with increased Round-up herbicide spraying.

While the overwhelming response to our signature drive has been positive, I have been perplexed over the last several months on the signature-gathering trail, by some of the negative viewpoints expressed:

Argument: “If we had this ordinance when Luther Burbank was alive, he couldn’t have developed over 800 new strains of plants over his career.”

Response:  Burbank used selective breeding, hybridization and grafting to develop new strains and varieties of plants.  This is a far cry from in vitro recombinant DNA or RNA techniques which take place in a Petri dish by inserting genes from viruses, bacteria, plants, animals, or even humans into the DNA or RNA  of  the plant or animal being genetically altered,  fusing cells such that they overcome natural physiological and reproductive barriers. This ordinance would not have affected Burbank’s work at all.

Argument: “Genetically engineered crops increase yield and are the answer to the problem of world hunger – why would we want to ban them?”

Response: This has been the mantra of biotech companies selling their patented GMO seeds and Round-up herbicide around the world.  Unfortunately, the reality hasn’t lived up to the hype.  (See: Gurian-Sherman D. Failure to yield: Evaluating the performance of genetically engineered crops. Union of Concerned Scientists. 2009. http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/failure-to-yield.pdf) *

Argument: “I think biotech saves lives and can save our planet.”

Response:  This ordinance addresses only the growing of genetically engineered crops in Sonoma County.  It will not affect biotech research in an indoor laboratory or any medical use of substances that may have been genetically engineered.  It targets GE crops because they can contaminate neighboring fields.  Almost all genetically engineered crops have been engineered to resist the increased spraying of herbicides manufactured by the same Ag Biotech companies producing them,  at the expense of the health of the people, the livestock and the environment.

If you would like to sign the petition to qualify the “Sonoma County Transgenic Contamination Prevention Ordinance” for the November 2016 ballot, you are most likely to find signature gatherers at the following locations: Andy’s Produce- Sebastopol; Olivers- Stony Point, Montecito, and Cotati;  Community Market- Santa Rosa and Sebastopol; Pacific Market- Sebastopol and Santa Rosa; Sonoma County Libraries; DMV offices; Farmers Markets, and on Saturdays, at REI in SR.

Volunteers are urgently needed for the last weeks of our campaign to reach a goal of 29,000 signatures from Sonoma County voters. 

Donations and endorsements are also needed.  Please visit our website, GMOFreeSonomaCounty.com, where you can volunteer, donate, and endorse with ease.  You will find many different volunteer opportunities listed.

In considering whether to become involved in the campaign for a GMO Free Sonoma County, please remember what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Our Lives Begin to End the Day We Become Silent About Things That Matter.”

* An excellent review of research on genetically engineered crops is: “GMO Myths and Truths: An Evidence-based Examination of the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops,” by Michael Antoniou, PhD, Claire Robinson, MPhil, and John Fagan, PhD, available on-line at gmomythsandtruths.earthopensource.org



Submitted by:  Pamela Gentry, MA, Sebastopol Coordinator, Citizens for Health Farms and Families

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