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Sound Off: Food & Science GMOs in Oregon

IN May of 2013, food inspectors found GMO wheat from Oregon in a shipment to Japan and Korea, countries that strictly forbid genetically modified organisms. This fueled a broader debate and legislation surrounding GMO labeling and modified crop-growing in Oregon. We caught up with Scott Dahlman (Oregonians for Food & Shelter) and Scott Bates (GMO Free Oregon) to frame the debate for us.

Click below to read each side:

Scott Dahlman

Oregonians for Food & Shelter

Scott Bates

GMO Free Oregon

Illustrations by Paul Harris

Scott Dahlman | Oregonians for Food & Shelter

Opponents of genetic engineering (GE) are again spreading fear about our food using initiative campaigns to ban GE crops and put warning labels on many foods containing GE ingredients.

Despite fear-mongering by proponents, scientists and food regulators around the world have concluded that GE crops are as safe as their non-GE counterparts. Voters in Oregon, California and Washington have rejected ballot measures on labeling because they were deceptive, confusing and costly. Editorials in major newspapers across all three states recommended “no” votes.

In its November special session, the Oregon legislature, encouraged by Governor John Kitzhaber, preempted activist efforts to pass county-level GE crop bans. Lawmakers recognized the chaos created for farmers if they faced differing local laws on which crops could and couldn’t be grown.

One local initiative effort—in Jackson County—already had qualified, so local voters will decide next May whether farmers there will be blocked from growing GE crops.

Activists are trying to put another labeling measure on the Oregon ballot next year. In 2002, 70 percent of Oregon voters said no to GE food labeling. California voters narrowly rejected a labeling measure in 2012, as did Washington voters this November.

Banning GE crops and putting unjustified warning labels on people’s food—especially by initiatives— is a terrible way to make farm and food policy for our state.

Farmers maintain their right, under Oregon law, to decide how they farm and what they grow. State policy encourages farmers to cooperate with their neighbors. This cooperation is important to maintain the diversity of production practices in agriculture today.

The right ideas are collaboration, cooperation and coexistence. Costly labeling laws and crop bans don’t make sense, aren’t good for consumers and would hurt Oregon farmers.

Being good neighbors is good for everyone.

Scott Bates | GMO Free Oregon

The food we eat today is not the same as it was twenty years ago, and farming is not the same either. GMOs are a big part of that difference.

In the past two decades, GMOs have become synonymous with pesticides. Be that herbicide residues from the heavy use of glyphosate on GM crops, which is allowed by the EPA to remain at ever-increasing levels in our food; or insecticides that the plants themselves have been engineered to produce. Numerous scientific studies have shown these pesticides kill the beneficial bacteria in the human digestive tract. These studies are now linking GMOs and their pesticides to health concerns from allergies, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and obesity.

GMO food labeling is an important tool to enable consumers, physicians and scientists to identify unintended health effects from eating GM foods. Globally, more than sixty countries already require labeling on foods containing GMOs. Opponents of GMO labeling in the United States, such as Coke, Nestle and General Mills, already comply with GMO labeling requirements with their globally distributed products, or they source non-GMO replacement ingredients. They should be required to do the same here.

GMO crops are advertised as reducing pesticide use and providing better yields. Since GMO agriculture began, however, use of pesticides has skyrocketed, resulting in super weeds and bugs which need new or increasing amounts of pesticides to control. This results in the killing of beneficial soil and pollinator organisms, and the polluting of our watersheds and ecosystems. Additionally, GMO crops have failed to deliver better yields, and risk contaminating non-GMO fields. This contamination can ruin entire economies in Oregon such as wheat exports or the specialty seed industry.

Oregon needs to take a stand and protect our local farmers, protect our environment, protect the organic industry that Oregon is globally known for and protect our citizens’ right to know what they are eating.

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