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Food For Thought

Not long ago the voters in Jackson County, Ore. passed a ballot initiative mandating what crops county farmers can or cannot grow on their own lands. The initiative, which voters passed by almost a two-to-one margin, bans county farmers from growing any genetically engineered (GE) plants.

In its last session, Oregon’s state legislation passed a pre-emption law intended to prevent counties from enacting individual bans, but Jackson County was exempted in the bill because the ballot initiative was already underway when the law went into effect. Four other counties are planning similar ballot initiatives. This is a hot topic in Oregon, and it would be like passing a law in Wyoming on what breed of cattle you could raise or what you could feed them.

There are a number of people who don’t like what the voters are doing, and it is not who you would expect. In the “organic,” non-genetically modified organisms (GMO) community, some see the legislation as a bad idea.

In a commentary that was posted in AgriMarketing, Mischa Popoff, a former organic farmer and USDA contract organic inspector, stresses that organic growers should be able to market their products on their own merit, rather than using legislation to stifle the competition. He said, “Let the consumers decide. For years we argued that the farming community should respect our right to be organic, but with this vote, we’ve gone one more step down the road to denying our neighbors their rights.”  

He went on to say, “My grandfather used to say you can’t sell a Ford by beating up on a Chevy. It’s time for anti-GMO organic activists to realize that someday they might not be able to sell any Fords if they keep trying to eliminate Chevys altogether. Consumers have a funny way of turning on you when you bend the rules of fair play. This is America. If we don’t live by the free market, we shouldn’t be surprised if the free market suddenly turns on us.”

If you think Oregon is bad, look what some countries in the European Union (EU) are doing, and France is leading the charge. EU member countries will have the right to refuse genetically engineered (GE) crops on their lands, even if they have clearance on health and safety grounds at the EU level. The EU really put the brakes on the GE crops, but GE crops have won repeated safety approvals and are imported into the EU in large amounts for animal feed. For human consumption, the countries don’t have to use the argument of health and safety. They can use the issue of impact on the environment or law and order. So there you go. U.S. agro-chemical giant Monsanto has abandoned efforts to obtain new approvals last year, saying it was no longer worth the effort.

I’m not against or for GMOs and GE crops, but you have to let science say if they are ok or not for health and safety. After that, it is still up to the consumer to have the right to choose what they want from the grocery shelves.

Each of us has to be accountable for our actions for whatever we buy. The do-gooders can’t run the world. They can make their case public, and then it is up to the rest of us to make our own decisions.