On November 4, Humboldt County voters resoundingly approved Measure P, the Humboldt County Genetic Contamination Prevention Ordinance. Measure P prohibits the “propagation, cultivation, raising or growing” of GMOs in the county. But what will this mean in practical terms? What changes are in store for Humboldt County?
The general consensus is that relatively few local farmers have been growing GMOs in recent years. Of those who have, most if not all have been growing GMO silage corn for the local dairy industry. Measure P takes effect immediately, making it unlawful to plant new GMO crops now. It does include a grace period allowing farmers until January, 2016 to remove any GMO crops already in the ground. However, it is unlikely that any local silage corn remained unharvested
as of Election Day.
Measure P’s supporters know that local farmers are generally community-minded and expect that even those who opposed passage of the ordinance will respect the will of Humboldt County voters by not planting GMOs. Other counties and cities which have enacted similar ordinances in years past—including Mendocino, Trinity, Marin and Santa Cruz counties and the City of Arcata—have not had any need for enforcement, as no one has attempted to violate them. To help with a smooth transition here in Humboldt, silage corn variety trials were conducted this year in the Arcata bottoms to identify good non-GMO alternatives for farmers currently growing GMO corn. Results are expected to be released soon.
As was said so often during the campaign, Measure P offers farmers the opportunity to market their products as grown in a GMO-free region. This message fits perfectly with existing local marketing efforts. We hope that this marketing advantage, along with the extra layer of protection Measure P provides for locally developed crop varieties and products, will be a catalyst for more agricultural innovation and entrepreneurship. For example, Measure P provides a leg up for anyone interested in taking advantage of the great opportunities for organic seed production in Humboldt. New ideas and plans spurred by the success of Measure P are already swirling in local farming circles.
Finally, many of Measure P’s effects will be seen not in what happens in Humboldt County in the coming years, but in what doesn’t happen. We won’t, for example, see toxic herbicides broadcast across monocultures of field crops or pastures, because herbicide-resistant crops and grasses won’t be grown here. And the impact extends beyond crops, too. While it can’t establish an impenetrable barrier at the county line, Measure P will make it much less likely that genetically engineered trees, grasses, fishes and other organisms become established in our local forests, prairies, streams and rivers. These effects, while perhaps less obvious, may end up being just as important for the long-term health and sustainability of our county.