By Our Family Farms
Jackson County, Oregon – The most talked about measure on the Jackson County ballot this month is Measure 15-119, which would prohibit the growing of genetically engineered crops in the county. More than 170 family farms have endorsed the measure, as well as the Jackson County Grange and over 350 businesses.
“A yes vote on Measure 15-119 is a vote to protect my rights as a farmer to not have my crop contaminated and destroyed by genetically engineered crops owned by some out-of-state corporation,” says local farmer Elise Higley who is director of Our Family Farms Coalition which is advocating for the measure. “I can spend two years of effort growing a crop that will be worthless if pollen from a genetically engineered crop trespasses onto my farm and pollinates my seed crop. That crop then becomes the legally patented property of the out-of-state corporation that owns the patent on the genetically engineered crop. I can’t sell it and I can’t save it for next year’s planting or I’m breaking federal patent law.”
The Measure is unique in that it has pulled together a broad spectrum of supporters from across the political spectrum ranging from farmers and property rights advocates to groups promoting local foods. The opposition to the measure has received over 97% of its funding from out-of-state corporations and other special interests from outside Jackson County and lists fewer than a dozen local opponents on their website. The campaign, run out of a public relations firm in Portland, has reportedly broken all county campaign finance records. They are spending over $850,000 on a flood of television and radio ads with scary messages that proponents of the measure say are untrue.
“Their ads are pure political bull,” says Jackson County farmer Jared Watters who currently grows genetically engineered crops but has said after learning how they put other farmers at risk he will no longer grow them. “I manage one of the largest farms in the county and we currently grow genetically engineered crops. But we’ve learned a lot about the threats these crops pose to other farmers and our economy, and we won’t grow them anymore.”
“As a fiscally conservative Republican its hard to listen to the false claims that protecting farmers with 15-119 would have high enforcement costs or threaten the sheriff’s budget. It’s just not true,” adds Watters whose family has farmed in southern Oregon since the 1800’s. “They’re flooding our county with TV and radio ads trying to scare and mislead voters, but they don’t really care about our county budget or local farmers, and they definitely don’t live here.”
The Family Farms Measure 15-119 was proposed after family farmers were being forced to destroy seed crops after learning that the Swiss chemical company Syngenta had planted genetically engineered sugar beets near their fields. The Southern Oregon Seed Growers Association attempted to work with the local farmers and Syngenta to mitigate the damage Syngenta’s operations were having on local farmers, but Syngenta walked out of the process declaring it was inconsistent with their business model. After local farmers, such as Steve Fry (Fry Family Farms), Chuck Burr (Restoration Seeds) and Chris Hardy had to destroy thousands of dollars of likely contaminated crops, local farmers went to state and county officials for help, but received none. As a result, Measure 15-119 was filed as a citizen ballot measure.
“The Jackson County Pomona Grange wholeheartedly endorses a Yes Vote on Measure 15-119,” says Jason R. Cough, Worthy Overseer of the Jackson County Pomona Grange and Chaplain of the Phoenix Grange. “Growing genetically engineered crops is a threat to the future of family farming in the Rogue Valley and it’s not right to grow a crop that can put your neighbor out of business.”
Opponents of 15-119 have claimed that it would have high enforcement costs, but supporters of the bill say that’s not true. “What we know is that the three agricultural counties with similar laws have not had any enforcement costs,” says Higley who farms on over a 100-acre property in the Applegate Valley. “This isn’t surprising since you have to sign a major legal contract to sell or buy genetically engineered crops so who is going to sign a contract like that for something that isn’t legal? Farmers? The global chemical companies that own the patents on genetically engineered seeds? No.”
“The opposition is trying to scare Republicans like me by claiming 15-119 would affect all of our hot button issues like ‘increased government control,’ ‘property rights’ and ‘increased costs,’ but there’s just nothing to support these claims,” explains Sams Valley farmer Jeff Day.
The opposition has also argued that 15-119 would take away farmers rights to grow what they want to grow. “What they’re effectively saying is that one grower should have the right to grow GMOs in a valley even if the effect of this is for the pollen from that crop to trespass onto all of his neighbors farms and make their crops unsellable,” says local seed grower Chris Hardy who has lost thousands of dollars in revenue after the Swiss multi-national corporation Syngenta started growing sugar beets near his farm. “If GMO stayed put where they were planted then we would have no need for 15-119. But if I plant a crop on my property I don’t think some Swiss corporation should have the ability to destroy it by planting a crop that spreads patent-protected GMOs onto my fields.”
You can learn more at Our Family Farms Coalition’s website at OurFamilyFarmsCoalition.org