Can fed-up Oregon organic farmers get a GMO ban on the ballot?
Petitioners in Southern Oregon’s Jackson County are pushing a measure onto the ballot that would outlaw the farming of genetically modified crops in the region.
Recently Jackson County organic farmers found genetically modified sugar beet crops planted by the Swiss corporation Syngenta AG as close as one-eighth of a mile from their farms. Until last year, any GMO crop planted within four miles of an organic farm would’ve been against Department of Agriculture rules. But since then, it’s been a farming free-for-all.
Ashland seed farmer Chuck Burr said he has a personal reason to support a proposed ban on genetically modified organisms in Jackson County.
He had to throw away $4,700 in chard seed after learning it might have been contaminated with pollen from nearby GMO fields.
“I’m up against it here,” said Burr, the owner of the 10-acre Restoration Farm on Old Siskiyou Highway. “I have to make a living, and I have an absolutely constitutional right to engage in commerce.
“And if another company comes in from outside the area and prevents me from doing it, then my rights trump theirs.”
The proposal has enough signatures to make it on the May 2014 primary ballot, but those rights will be central to whether citizens will even be allowed to vote on the measure. Oregon’s right-to-farm law states that “farming and forest practices are critical to the economic welfare of this state,” and that it is “in the interest of the continued welfare of the state for farming and forest practices to be protected from legal actions that may be intended to limit [such practices].”
A ban on genetically modified crop farming would definitely be a limit. But then, giving GM crops free rein is sort of limiting to organic farmers, given the way GM crops have of spreading across property lines. Oregon has more than a year to figure this one out, but I’m guessing the fight will get pretty dirty.