The people of Oregon have been adamantly anti-GMO for some time, but their resolve has recently gained more national attention. A GMO beet crop became the victim of “agro-terrorism” when the fields, owned by Syngenta, were set on fire. There have also been two major lawsuits to come out of Oregon against Monsanto. When farmers discovered genetically engineered wheat crops in their fields, they were understandably confused and concerned.
“He [the farmer] discovered it when he was spraying and figured out that this particular wheat plant didn’t die. This has alerted local farmers and consumers to the reality that you can’t really control where these seeds end up, and people are very concerned about the integrity of the food we produce, consume and export,” said GMO-labeling advocate and blogger Karen Mares. The concern about the GMO crops caused several countries, including Japan, to ban the crop potentially creating economic trouble for Oregon.
Out of the field and into legislation, Oregon has looked at many bills that tackle the issue of GMO crops and the rights of farmers. The most recent of these is SB 633 which would have prohibited local measures to regulate agricultural seed, flower seed and vegetable seed, or products derived from those seeds. The bill was especially offensive to Jackson County, Oregon which is a large producer of organic, non-GMO and heritage seeds. The county fought to maintain control of their own agriculture by creating a website to keep people updated on the issues and encourage them to get involved in the anti-GMO movement. SB 633 was defeated when it did not reach the House floor before the end of session.
Now Jackson County is promoting Measure 15-119, which would ban GMO seeds from the county. Other counties in Oregon are following Jackson County’s lead in the fight to control their own agricultural lands. Humboldt County leaders are considering a complete ban on GMOs as well. The desire to keep GMO crops out of farmers’ fields is extending beyond Oregon’s borders. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon has introduced legislation in the Senate that would repeal the “Monsanto Protection Act” passed earlier this year.
It’s clear that the people of Oregon are passionate about the anti-GMO movement. A group, called GMO Free Oregon has developed quite a following on Facebook, Twitter and through their website. The organization shares information about the various GMO cases throughout their state and promotes anti-GMO events, like the March Against Monsanto that took place earlier this year. Part of the reason for the fervor behind the movement may be the changing economy in Oregon.
“With the decrease in timber jobs over the last 30 years, people in the area turned to technology and agriculture,” Mares said. “Oregon is a very diverse region, both agriculturally and from a human perspective. I’ve lived here my entire life, and I’ve seen a definite shift toward environmentalism and an appreciation of just how much this region has to offer in the way of agricultural products.”