Rural Oregon Voters Back Ban On GMO Crops
Amid U.S. Labeling Uproar
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[May 21, 2014]
By Shelby Sebens
PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - Voters in two
small Oregon counties on Tuesday approved controversial ballot measures
to ban cultivation of genetically engineered crops within their
boundaries, though one measure is vulnerable to legal challenge under a
new state law.
The measure in Jackson County in southern Oregon, garnering "yes"
votes from nearly 66 percent of voters there, has drawn national
attention and more than $1 million in campaign funding to the
community, which has just 117,650 registered voters.
The results are still unofficial and will likely not be certified
for nearly three weeks, according to Jackson County Clerk Chris
The ban is supported by a coalition of more than 180 farmers and
community members, who have been pushing for the vote on the issue
for more than two years.
"It's a great day for the people of Oregon who care about
sustainability and healthy ecosystems," the group GMO Free Oregon
declared on its Facebook page after the results.
Opponents conceded defeat but said the debate would continue.
"We respect the voice of the voters, but remain convinced...the crop
ban is bad public policy," said Barry Bushue, president of the
Oregon Farm Bureau.
"We will continue to fight to protect the rights of all farmers to
choose for themselves how they farm."
Supporters say the area's organic and conventional crops are in
danger of contamination by genetically engineered crops, which are
typically altered to withstand pesticides or resist insect damage.
They also fear widespread use of pesticides associated with the
"We are either going to choose the chemical corporations for
agriculture or we are going to choose our family farms," local
farmer Chris Hardy, a grower of beets and Swiss chard who helped
start the initiative, said earlier in the day.
The Jackson County measure requires people to "harvest, destroy or
remove all genetically engineered plants" within 12 months of the
enactment of the ordinance.
A similar measure was approved on Tuesday in neighboring Josephine
County. But that measure is expected to be challenged in court
because it is not exempt from a 2013 law barring such GMO bans.
Jackson County's effort was under way before that law and is thus
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Last year, an experimental, unapproved biotech wheat strain
developed by Monsanto Co. was discovered contaminating a
farm field in the state. Wheat exports were temporarily disrupted
because foreign buyers feared contamination.
Opponents say the GMO bans will be costly to enforce. Campaign
materials urging a "no" vote said it was "important for Jackson
County to embrace all forms of farming and ranching."
Jackson County, Oregon, is not alone. In 2004, Mendocino County,
California, became the first jurisdiction in the United States to
outlaw the production of genetically modified crops.
Tuesday's vote comes as a larger movement is under way in many U.S.
states to seek mandatory labeling of foods made from genetically
Monsanto and other developers of genetically engineered crops say
their products are safe and that mandatory labels will confuse
consumers and increase costs of food production.
(Writing and additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City;
Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Steve Gorman and Clarence Fernandez)
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