Initiative 2012-4: A few steps closer to being GMO-free | Guest column

On June 6, 2,261 signatures collected in support of Initiative 2012-4 to ban the propagation of genetically modified organisms in San Juan County where handed in to the county auditor.

By Ken Akopiantz

On June 6, 2,261 signatures collected in support of Initiative 2012-4 to ban the propagation of genetically modified organisms in San Juan County where handed in to the county auditor. The initiative, formulated by a group called GMO-Free San Juans, has support from a wide spectrum of individuals, including farmers, within our community. Education, outreach, and financial support continue as the group prepares for the measure being placed on a county-wide ballot in November.

Initiative 2012-4 would make it unlawful to propagate, cultivate, raise or grow plants, animals and other organisms that have been genetically modified, and it provides for penalties and destruction of such organisms. Only people who knowingly and willfully violate this measure will be prosecuted.

The measure does not affect products sold in stores, and it also exempts research and educational facilities working with GMOs. This initiative only prohibits GMOs, not any of the presently grown improved varieties or hybrids present in San Juan County.

The measure defines genetically modified as, “an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.” These genetic modifications are created using viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria to aid in splicing genes from one unrelated species to another. The long term effects and consequences of these genetic modifications are still unclear and much of the independent research shows an alarming amount of environmental and public health problems. With GMOs we now have plants that require U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration approval for their production and use. We have a rich history of crop breeding and improvement to draw upon without resorting to genetic modification as defined for this measure. These natural methods include selection of open pollinated crops; controlled crosses in animals and plants for specific traits (selective breeding); hybridization of plants through natural means; grafting; and any other techniques which utilizes the natural mechanisms of gene exchange even if humans facilitate the process.

Along with genetic modification comes the patenting of plants and animals. The patent owner (typically a large, multi-national corporation) then owns any plant or animal containing these patented genes, regardless of how the genes got there. Farmers are losing their rights to save seed as genetic contamination from GMO crops has become a reality. The introduction of GMOs is simply the continuation of non-sustainable and energy intensive farming practices along with the consolidation of our food supply. Additionally, genetic modifications are being used not to feed the world or increase yields, but to control the food we eat and how we grow it. To quote Henry Kissinger, “ Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control people.”

The production of uncontaminated seed is becoming more difficult in many areas of the country, and there is a growing movement here and around the world to ban the production of genetically modified organisms. “Non-GMO Verified” is the fastest growing food label in North America as sales of certified products hit $1 billion in 2011. The isolation of San Juan County provides us with a unique opportunity to be truly GMO-Free. If we keep genetically modified organisms from being planted in our county, we will be afforded a rare opportunity to produce uncontaminated seed and plants at a time when they are becoming less and less available.

Initiative 2012-4 is not another regulatory hurdle to burden the people of San Juan County. It is farmer-initiated and is designed to protect our rights to farm and save seed the way we always have. As supporters of this initiative, we encourage genetic improvements and diversity. There are appropriate uses of genetic modification for human health and advancement, but as this measure allows, they belong in a lab or as part of a medical procedure, not released into our environment.

To celebrate the success of the first phase of our efforts join us on Saturday June, 23 at The Lopez Center for Community and the Arts. We will enjoy the music of Tiempo de Lopez along with a silent auction featuring many excellent items from community members. The festivities begin at 7 p.m. This is an event that you do not want to miss.

Information about the Initiative 2012-4 campaign is available online at We encourage you to take a look. This is our opportunity to stand up for local control and show our commitment to a healthy environment. Vote yes on Initiative 2012-4.

– Akopiantz operates Horse Drawn Farms on Lopez Island and a member of GMO-Free San Juans