The Northwest Delivers a Blow to Biotech: 2 Oregon Counties Ban GMOs


Jackson County, Oregon is home to less that 120,000 registered voters, but its historic vote on Tuesday is garnering national attention and rattling the biotech industry: it is one of two Oregon counties that has banned the planting of genetically modified organisms within its borders.

According to RT, Monsanto, along with five other biotech industry companies, spent close to half a million dollars in Jackson County in an effort to defeat the voter measure.

“[O]pponents of the GMO ban had gained an eight-to-one spending advantage as of April,” RT reported, “nearly $1 million of the $1.3 million spent during the campaign was used by opponents.”

But it wasn’t enough to sway the Oregon voters, and 66 percent of Jackson County residents voted to passed the ban.

The measure will require any GMO plants being grown in the area to be destroyed within 12 months from when the ordinance goes into effect.

“We fought the most powerful and influential chemical companies in the world and we won, local farmer and anti-GMO advocate Elise Higley told the Oregonian.

With 57 percent of the vote in favor of a similar measure, Josephine County has also mandated against cultivating GMOs within its borders even despite a technicality over the initiative that will likely have to be decided by the courts.

Opposition to the bill’s passing is expected to be vocal, and to take legal action to stop the enforcement.”Regrettably ideology defeated sound science and common sense in Jackson County,” Barry Bushue, of the Oregon Farm Bureau and spokesman for Good Neighbor Farmers, told the Oregonian.

“We respect the voice of the voters,” he added,”but remain convinced Measure 15-119 – the crop ban – is bad public policy. While this election is over, this debate is not. We will continue to fight to protect the rights of all farmers to choose for themselves how they farm.”

The news comes just weeks after the state of Vermont passed the nation’s first trigger clause-free GMO labeling bill, which goes into effect in 2016. The biotech industry has already taken steps to sue the state of Vermont, citing violations of First Amendment rights that protect enterprises.

While the Oregon measures do not require labeling of foods containing GMOs or a ban on the sale or distribution of foods with GMO ingredients, the law is a step towards more transparency in our food system.

The votes come almost exactly a year after illegal genetically modified wheat was found growing in an Oregon farm. The discovery caused outrage among local wheat farmers as it led to lost export sales. The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of wheat, but there are currently no GMO wheat strains approved for cultivation in the country.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Ian Sane