(Beyond Pesticides, May 23, 2014) Residents in two Oregon counties, Jackson and Josephine, voted to ban the cultivation, production, and distribution of genetically engineered (GE) crops within the counties’ borders Tuesday. The Jackson County measure 15-119, passed with 66 percent of the vote, while Josephine County passed with 58 percent. As noted by Reuters, the newly approved measures mandate that people “harvest, destroy or remove all genetically engineered plants” no later than 12 months after the ordinances go into effect. This is great news for farmers of organic and non-genetically engineered crops, who constantly struggle with the threat of GE contamination.
Though there are less than 120,000 registered voters in Jackson County, the measure gained national attention due to the fact that opponents raised over $830,000 to advertise againstthe measure, with over 97% of the funding coming in from outside of the county, including over $450,000 from biotech giant Monsanto and five other corporations to defeat the initiative. For comparison, the previous county spending record on a ballot initiative was $111,000.
“We fought the most powerful and influential chemical companies in the world and we won,” Elise Higley, a Jackson County farmer and representative from Our Family Farms Coalition told Oregon Live.
Though the ordinances were approved overwhelmingly, organizers expect the biotech industry and its backers in Congress to challenge this win. In fact, Oregon already passed a law last fall that says only the state can regulate seeds. The bill was pushed at the behest of out-of-state chemical companies, and is a model bill from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), previously introduced in other states. Jackson County’s proposal was already in the works so it was granted an exemption, however Josephine County will be challenged in court.
Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) introduced a bill in Congress that would prohibit states from implementing mandatory labeling laws by giving the authority to label GE ingredients to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Accurately dubbed the “Deny Americans the Right-to-Know Act” or DARK Act, HR 4432 it would also allow food companies to give products with GE ingredients the “natural” label, despite the fact that there is nothing natural about crops engineered in a lab to produce their own insecticide or tolerate dangerous herbicides.
GE crops pose serious threats to both the environment and human health. Researchers have found numerous instances of insect resistance, a difficult to contain environmental and agricultural impact often leading to overall increases in insecticide sales and emergency uses of even more dangerous pesticides. Animal studies have also produced evidence of insecticide-incorporated corn causing increased risk of infertility. Similarly, weed resistance has been documented in herbicide-tolerant crops. Furthermore, there is little evidence of the economic benefits that biotech companies claim.
Efforts to curb GE crop cultivation in the U.S. through all-out bans are few and far between, however many states have attempted to pass GE labeling laws. Vermont became the first successful state to pass a bill requiring the labeling of food containing GE ingredients. The bill does not contain a trigger provision similar to laws adopted in Maine and Connecticut —with a requirement that similar action is taken in contiguous states before the law goes into effect.
Beyond Pesticides continues to support the efforts of all farmers, counties, states, and countries to protect themselves against the unwanted invasion of GE crops and the risks that they bring to the environment and health. Please visit our Genetic Engineering webpage to learn more.
Source: Our Family Farms Coalition
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.