Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The San Juans are GMO-free. Is Washington next? |

The San Juans are GMO-free. Is Washington next? |

The San Juan County ban, which includes landscaping plants as well as seeds planted for food, is intended to protect the county’s rich agricultural land. While this is surely a win for the farmer-initiated bill, the area’s already strong commitment to organic farming begs the question of whether the initiative was necessary at all.

“We have a thriving local farming economy that follows organic standards, mostly by default,” said initiative champion Ken Akopiantz of Horse Drawn Farm on Lopez Island. Akopiantz set out to maintain the integrity of this lifestyle after hearing the now famous Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser speak. (Schmeiser is often touted as a symbol for small farmers rights after battling Monsanto over patent infringement for years.)

For now, GMO seed is predominantly found in commodity crops like canola and soy, but research is also being done for many other cultivated crops – grasses, apples and more. The realization that GMO seeds will soon be turning up in many things we grow became a catalyst for Akopiantz. In Fall of 2011 he started GMO-Free San Juan’s.

Many others – particularly farmers – were more enthusiastic about keeping GMOs out of San Juan County. George Orser, who owns Orcas Farm in Olga on Orcas Island, feels the initiative has both symbolic and practical significance. The overwhelming support for the bill from his very active voting peers (San Juan County had the highest turn out in Washington state) Orser noted, sends a strong message about islanders’ views on GMO crops.

“They are not good for the land, the people or our community,” he says.
Practically speaking, Orser believes that the Initiative “preserves options for increased economic opportunity for our seed efforts and enhances prospects for our continued culinary agro-tourism efforts.”

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