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Oregon Is Debating GMO Food Labeling. Again.

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

There's much to talk about in Ashland-a southern Oregon winter so dry that, for the first time in 50 years, the local ski mountain failed to open, or the fare at this year's Oregon Shakespeare Festival

But it's not the weather or the arts that are dominating conversations there. It's three big letters: GMO. 

The controversy over genetically modified organisms in food has come to Jackson County, where voters will consider a measure in May to ban growing "genetically engineered" plants. Local fields of modified sugar beets are a top concern of ban advocates. 

"It's certainly the talk of the town," says Vincent Smith, an assistant professor of sociology and environmental studies at Southern Oregon University.

Smith says young voters, who tend to be apathetic, particularly in primary elections, are especially engaged.

"It's a huge issue for students," Smith says. "It's all they want to talk about."

The Jackson County measure may be only a prelude to a statewide measure that-based on recent GMO fights in neighboring states-could become the most expensive ballot-measure fight in Oregon history. The current high-water mark is 2007's Measure 50, a failed tobacco tax increase. Proponents spent $4.1 million and opponents $12.1 million.

A dozen years ago, Oregon looked at becoming the first state in the nation to require labeling of food that contains genetically modified ingredients. Voters trounced the measure 71 to 29 percent after agribusiness companies, led by Monsanto, spent $5.5 million to defeat it.

This year, proponents have submitted initiative measures that (according to the wording of one)  "requires food manufacturers, retailers to label 'genetically engineered' foods as such." The Oregon GMO Right to Know committee, which has raised $112,000, will need to gather 87,213  signatures by July 3 to make the ballot.