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Syngenta and Monsanto: Double Trouble for Jackson County, Oregon

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

Out-of-state biotech corporations and their allies have contributed $600,000 out of a total of more than $800,000 to fight Jackson County's May 20 initiative to ban the growing of genetically engineered (GE or GMO) crops, an eye-popping amount for a small county election. Monsanto has given over $183,000, DuPont Pioneer nearly $130,000 and Syngenta $75,000. The Oregon Farm Bureau has donated over $50,000, much of which could be pass-through money, since it receives thousands of dollars from biotech firms.

In almost any GMO political campaign, Monsanto is lead funder. Its legions of lobbyists roam the halls of Congress and state legislatures while numerous former employees rotate through Washington, DC's revolving door to the FDA and USDA, neutering regulations. And, of course, they sue people, lots of them, especially farmers they accuse of infringing on their patents.

Syngenta is less well known, but more directly connected to Jackson County, where its GMO sugar beets have contaminated non-GMO beets and chard, costing farmers thousands of dollars in lost markets.

Syngenta's Code of Conduct touts its concern about compliance with law, business integrity and communities. In February, 2012, the head of Syngenta's corporate communications maintained it abided by the USDA requirement of a four-mile buffer zone with non-GE seed crops "to ensure purity of our seed and prevent cross-pollination with other crops." In a May 2012 article , a Syngenta spokesman "said that his company is sensitive to growers of non-GMO seeds and maintains at least five miles between conventional and GMO plots."

Jackson County farmers beg to differ. Chris Hardy, owner of Village Farm in Ashland, discovered that Syngenta's sugar beets were planted only one quarter of a mile from his organic farm. There was also an organic garden at an Ashland school a half mile away. Syngenta removed their plot only after he had blown the whistle on them.

Farmers have mapped Syngenta's checkerboard planting of 35 plots of GMO sugar beets super-imposed with local farms. There are dozens of instances where the distances are far less than four miles, the buffer zone established by the USDA before deregulation in July 2012. Another local farmer, who isn't even opposed to GMO's, emphasized to me that Syngenta had all kinds of places in the country to plant their sugar beets, but chose Jackson and Josephine Counties instead. "They have no regard of where any other farmers are. There is no excuse for their behavior."