While there are dozens of initiatives underway, or being discussed, to label genetically enhanced crops, there are also other tactics being deployed to contain use of the technology. Oregon, which was ground zero for a surprising GMO wheat find in 2013, has made a new move with county-based bans on biotech crops that will have implications for the farmers and seed producers in the region.
Here's a look at five things you should know about the bans.
1 - The bans are centered in the Rogue Valley, which is in Southwest Oregon, and home to vineyards and the Rogue River - Siskiyou National Forest. Medford is the largest city in the area. The two counties where the bans were put in place include Jackson and Josephine.
2 - Both the Jackson County ban and the Josephine County ban would require GMO crops be removed within the next 12 months, giving farmers time to harvest for 2014. Perennial crops, like alfalfa, must be removed by the 12-month limit.
3 - The Jackson County effort was posted to the ballot before an Oregon statewide measure was passed prohibiting such moves; the Josephine ban was on the ballot after the measure and several wire service reports note the Josephine ban may be challenged on those grounds.
4 - The Jackson ban had solid financial support on both sides of the question with more than $900,000 raised by biotech proponents opposing the ban and about $455,000 raised by those in favor of the ban. In the end, 66% of those voting supported the ban in Jackson County. In Josephine County the margin was 58% in favor of the ban. In a report at Oregonlive.com, Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau is quoted:
"We respect the voice of the voters…but remain convinced Measure 15-119 [the Jackson County measure] - 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."
5 - Companies are already announcing their compliance with the ban. Syngenta, which has leased land in the county to grow glyphosate-tolerant sugar beet seed, told The Oregonion in an interview that it will comply with the law. In fact, according to reports looking at the issue, it was concern by a farmer who wanted to rent land that was close to Syngenta-leased ground that may have been the spark to get the idea of the ban going in the first place.
California had one of the first county-based bans on GMO crops back in 2004 when Mendocino County passed the measure. These two latest bans are part of a concerted effort by grass roots groups aiming to curtail use of GMO crops despite the science in favor of the technology. The driver in the Rogue Valley counties that passed these bans was cross pollination of organic crops by biotech crops - which would hurt potential sale of the organic crops. Organic crops ban biotech content.
A lot of media are focused on the bans, even Orion Samuelson offered his take in Samuelson Sez over the weekend on This Week in Agribusiness - you can find his comments about 4 minutes into this video clip.
Local actions on GMO labeling and now these latest county-based bans, may move the needle enough to get federal action on these issues.