Voters in rural Oregon ban GMO crops

By Maggie Hennessy

- Last updated on GMT

Voters in rural Oregon ban GMO crops
Residents of a southwestern Oregon county voted emphatically on Tuesday to ban the planting of most genetically engineered crops.

With most of the votes counted in yesterday’s mail-in election, Jackson County's Measure 15-119 passed with 66% of the vote. A similar measure in nearby Josephine County led 58% to 42% with two-thirds of the votes counted.

The highly contentious measure attracted more than $1.3 million to the southwestern Oregon county. The campaign to defeat it raised more than $900,000, with most of the money coming from out-of-state donors. Three major agribusiness firms—Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer—combined to contribute almost $400,000. Supporters of the ban raised $375,000, with the leading out-of-state donation coming from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, with $40,000.

“Oregon farmers stood up to and triumphed over the world’s six largest pesticide corporations,”​ said Paul Towers, spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network North America. “Despite the efforts of the Big 6 to bully Oregon voters, residents voted for protections for farmers, rural communities and the agricultural economy. And in doing so, they inspire other communities across the country and around the world that it is possible to push back against powerful industrialized farming interests and set us on course to a more sustainable and resilient food and farming system.”

On the other hand, Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau and a spokesman for Good Neighbor Farmers, called the measure “bad public policy,”​ noting: “ideology defeated sound science and common sense in Jackson County.​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," ​he added.

Jackson and Josephine counties join the ranks of Santa Cruz, Trinity, Marin and Mendocino counties in California, along with San Juan County in Washington and numerous cities. Hawaii’s Big Island and Oahu have also banned GE taro and coffee. The vote comes just weeks after Vermont passed a law​ mandating labeling of GE foods sold in the state.

“Across the country, members of the food movement are engaging in the political process and demanding their rights as consumers and as citizens,”​ said Rebecca Spector, who spearheads state labeling initiatives for Center for Food Safety, in a statement applauding the Oregon counties’ votes.

Tuesday’s vote isn’t likely to spur a trend across Oregon, however, as Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill last fall that prohibits local governments from regulating genetically engineered crops. An exception was made for Jackson County because its measure had already qualified for the ballot.

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