GMO ban supporters flock to Jackson County offices

Supporters of a ban on genetically-modified crops packed the Jackson County courthouse auditorium this morning before they handed in a petition with more than 6,700 signatures requesting the ban.

After addressing commissioners, members of GMO-Free Jackson County then marched to the nearby Elections Office to file the signatures officially, with several holding up signs in support of the ban. They hope to get a ballot measure banning the crops in Jackson County on the May 2014 ballot.

"Clearly GMOs are an issue of concern for a very large segment of our community," petitioner and organic farmer Chris Hardy said in a statement to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said 4,662 verified signatures are needed to get a proposed measure on a 2014 primary ballot. The Board of Commissioners could also hold a special election in May 2013, but that isn't likely because of the cost.

Proponents of the ban say pollen from the genetically-modified organisms — GMOs — grown in the Rogue Valley can contaminate organic crops. This can ruin crop and seed yields, and ban proponents say the crops are also detrimental to consumer health.

Multinational Swiss corporation Syngenta raises genetically-modified sugar beets less than four miles away from several local organic farms. A four-mile buffer between organic and GMO grows was instituted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but was later suspended. Several organic farms in Gold Hill, Medford, Talent and Ashland have had to throw away seed or plow under crops to prevent possible contamination.

"Freedom to farm here should not be a one-way street in favor of national corporations," Hardy said, adding a ban is the only feasible solution for the personal and economic health of Jackson County.

Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, also attended, throwing his support behind a GMO ban. He compared the issue to a large tire producer making tires that put a chemical slick on the roads and degrade tires from other companies.

"If we allow GMO crops to contaminate fields in Jackson County, it's to our economic detriment," Buckley said in a statement to the Board of Commissioners.

Jason Couch of the Jackson County Grange said he supports the ban, adding GMO and organic farms cannot coexist in the Rogue Valley.

"We don't feel you can do both in this county," Couch said to the Board of Commissioners. "It's just too small."

— Ryan Pfeil

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