On Tuesday, after a two year battle, voters in Jackson County, Oregon, passed ballot measures banning genetically modified organism (GMO) crops. The fight began when organic farmers in Jackson County learned agribusiness, Syngenta, was growing genetically modified (GM) sugar beet seed resistant to Roundup in local fields.
Despite the US$1 million campaign by seed companies, the measure passed by a two-to-one margin. Local farmers were the main driving force of the campaign. According to The Oregonian, the measure has raised debate on multiple issues including; property rights, land owner rights, and control of resources.
“This is really an issue where local family farmers don’t believe the state has done a good job protecting their interests,” said Ivan Maluski, director of the Molalla-based Friends of Family Farmers, which supports the measure. “There’s lax oversight on the federal and state level. This local effort is important because it’s a way for local growers to protect their property rights from genetically engineered pollen contaminating their seed crops.”
A similar measure in nearby Josephine County is also up for vote and expected to pass. However, because of a law passed last year in Oregon preventing local government from regulating GM crops, the measure will likely be challenged in the courts. Jackson County was uniquely positioned since the initiative was started before the new law.
Chuck Burr, president of the Southern Oregon Seed Growers Association, said, “This vote is going to make Jackson and Josephine county one of the most valuable seed-growing regions in the entire country, period.”
The focus remains on Jackson County since it may be the sole opportunity in Oregon for an enforceable measure and would be the first and only county in the U.S. to enforce an outright ban on GMO cultivation.