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GMO Measure in Oregon's Jackson County Draws Big Money, Raises Questions about Local Control

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Genetic Engineering Page, Millions Against Monsanto Page and our Oregon News Page.

The largest checks pouring into Oregon campaigns for the May 20 primary election aren't for a legislative or Portland-area race but a contentious measure in Jackson County that would ban most genetically engineered crops.

Measure 15-119 has attracted about $1.3 million to the southern Oregon county with about 206,000 residents. That includes $455,000 donated to the opposition campaign from six biotechnology and agriculture companies, including Monsanto and Syngenta.

The Jackson County measure and a similar one in neighboring Josephine County have managed to hit on some of the most hot-button issues in Oregon: property rights, local control and scarce resources for former timber-reliant counties.

And with an equally controversial GMO labeling initiative aimed for the November ballot already attracting more than $800,000, Jackson County's measure is likely just the opening salvo in an expensive fight over biotechnology in Oregonians' food.

"This is really an issue where local family farmers don't believe the state has done a good job protecting their interests," said Ivan Maluski, director of the Molalla-based Friends of Family Farmers, which supports the measure. "There's lax oversight on the federal and state level. This local effort is important because it's a way for local growers to protect their property rights from genetically engineered pollen contaminating their seed crops."

The property rights argument goes both ways.

"Fundamentally, growers can choose what crops they grow," said Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, which opposes the Jackson County measure. "This would really be the first example where one set of growers -- those who don't like GM crops -- are going to tell all growers that they can and can't grow certain crops in Jackson County. That's a precedent that we don't want to see started."