A petition seeking to make San Juan County free of genetically modified organisms has hit the streets.
Initiative Measure No. 2012-4 needs 1,560 signatures of registered voters in the county, validated by June, in order to be on the November ballot. The county council could also choose to enact it as a law.
The measure would make it unlawful to propagate, cultivate, raise or grow plants, animals and other organisms that have been genetically modified and provides for penalties and destruction of such organisms.
“Given the San Juan Islands’ isolation from the mainland we are in an excellent position to truly be GMO-free,” said Ken Akopiantz of Horse Drawn Farms on Lopez Island. “In protecting our island from the genetic pollution of GMOs we would be supporting our local farmers.”
Akopiantz is the sponsor of the petition, and said he has had the support of a broad spectrum of community members, including teachers, farmers, health care professionals, scientists, food retailers, and other concerned citizens.
Milene Henley, San Juan County auditor, said this is the first time she has heard of an initiative for a GMO-free county.
Akopiantz said he has been opposed to GMOs for a long time, but when he heard Percy Schmiser tell his story at an event on Lopez Island in October, he said he knew something needed to be done on the islands.
Schmiser, a Saskatchewan farmer, became an international spokesman against GMOs in the late 1990s, when he battled the giant Monsanto Company over the appearance of “Roundup Ready Canola” plants in his fields.
Akopiantz said there are numerous reasons to be opposed to GMOs: when they are released into the environment they can’t be controlled, they are not sustainable, create chemically dependent farmers and promote energy intensive farming practices.
“The adoption of GMOs consolidates the control of our food supply as farmers are ever more dependent on the costly inputs of herbicides and fertilizers and they can no longer save their own seed,” Akopiantz said. “Producers of GMO seeds claim that GMOs are needed to meet the food needs of our ever growing population. The issues of hunger and disease are predominately ones of poverty, food distribution and inequality.”
The most prevalent commercialized GMO crops in the U.S. are soy, cotton, canola, corn, Hawaiian papaya, alfalfa, zucchini, yellow squash and tobacco, per the Institute for Responsible Technology.
According to The Center for Food Safety, GMOs have not undergone longterm independent health or safety testing and they pose serious health risks, including the introduction of new toxins and dangerous food allergies.
There are anti-GMO efforts in states across the country, including California, Arizona, Maine, Vermont and Colorado.
Washington was the first state to ban the cultivation of genetically modified fish and has GMO-free brassica zones, for the protection of vegetables like broccoli and cabbages.
While 30 countries, like Australia, Japan, and Europe, have significant restrictions and labeling requirements or outright bans on the production of GMOs, there are presently no U.S. laws requiring GMO labeling.
In November, the Committee for the Right to Know coalition submitted the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act to the State Attorney General for title and summary.
The petition for a GMO-free San Juan County can be found on Lopez at Blossom, Vortex, Isabel’s Coffee and Vita’s, on Orcas at Homegrown Market, Island Hardware and The Coffelt’s Farm Stand, on Shaw at The Shaw General Store, and on San Juan Island at Synergy and Heritage Farm Stands and The Market Chef. There are also islanders on the streets gathering signatures.
“My work in the community enables me to reach a lot of people,” said Learner Limbach, director of Food Masters and FEAST, two local organizations dedicated to sustainable agriculture. “I am helping get petitions out there and collecting signatures because I believe people have the right to protect their access to clean healthy food.”
For more info on Orcas call Learner Limbach at 376-4048 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and on Lopez call Ken Akopiantz at 468-3486 or email email@example.com.