GMO Debate Comes to Lake County
By John Jensen
Lake County Record-Bee
August 17, 2005
LAKE COUNTY -- Genetically engineered crops won't be growing in Lake County anytime soon if local growers have their way.
Lake County supervisors will consider a moratorium on planting of genetically modified, herbicide-resistant alfalfa during the Aug. 23 board meeting.
The Lake County Coalition for Responsible Agriculture (LCCRA) is proposing the moratorium to give the county time to learn more about the benefits and hazards of planting the genetically modified seeds.
LCCRA is a coalition of several groups and numerous individuals, organic farmer Phil Murphy said.
"It's Lake County Healthy Environment and Living (HEAL), the Sierra Club, conventional and organic growers," Murphy explained.
Agricultural products using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are entering mainstream agriculture in the U.S. -- despite resistance to the technology in some parts of the country and in California, where genetically modified, herbicide-resistant alfalfa seeds have been released for sale.
The seeds are the product of Monsanto Co., the same company that makes the commonly used herbicide Roundup.
Proponents include the Farm Bureau and Monsanto, who argue that it will increase yields and reduce herbicide use.
"We live in the age of computers. This is just a technological way to increase production using less pesticides," said Lake County Farm Bureau Executive Director Chuck March. "This is just a future step in agriculture."
Detractors of the genetically modified seeds say they will necessitate increased herbicide spraying. They also claim Monsanto's licensing agreement will potentially expose farmers to copyright infringement lawsuits from the company as traditional crops are contaminated by genetically modified crops.
The problem with cross pollination of the crops is that Monsanto doesn't want people stealing its technology and selling the seeds as their own. The thing is, bees pollinate plants, so crops could be pollinated without a human hand in it.
March doesn't see it quite that way. "That's been a scare tactic on the GMO issue," he said. "When Monsanto comes out with a product they have patents on the seed."
One solution, March said, is buffer zones.
Denise Rushing, a walnut grower in Upper Lake, wants to grow organic alfalfa between her walnut trees in a farming process called permaculture.
"Some alfalfa is grown naturally," she explained. "Permaculture no-till agriculture is basically planting grasses with animals that can graze and provide organic enrichment over the soil," she said.
While neighbors planting GMO crops won't eliminate her ability to grow organic, she doesn't like the idea that to protect her crops from somebody else's she would be required to create a buffer zone.
"It doesn't preclude it, it just requires extra work on my side," she said. "It requires a buffer zone so I have to have some of my land out of production."
Supervisors will get to listen to the arguments on Tuesday and decide which way to go. District 1 Supervisor Ed Robey said he wasn't entirely sure why the moratorium was strictly on a single crop.
"If we're going to pass an ordinance on alfalfa, why not on all GMOs, including alfalfa?" he asked.
Robey said he isn't interested in an outright ban on GMOs -- as neighboring Mendocino County put into effect -- but he suggested that the single crop moratorium might not be enough.
"I would prefer to talk about the whole enchilada and not just a bite of it," he said.