Voters in two Oregon counties this week overwhelmingly approved ballot initiatives prohibiting cultivation of genetically modified crops, despite a million-dollar agribusiness PR campaign against the proposed ban.
Oregon Voters: We’re NOT ‘Roundup Ready,’ Actually
Organic growers, consumers, and supporters have been working on getting these ballot initiatives into the hands of Oregon voters for about two years, in response to Syngenta’s cultivation of Roundup Ready sugar beets and possible genetic contamination of nearby organic crops.
The measures affect growers in Jackson and Josephine counties, in the southwestern part of the state. Both ballot initiatives passed by impressive margins, with a 2-to-1 support ratio reported for Jackson county and 58% voter support in neighboring Josephine county. Ballots were cast by mail and tallied on Tuesday. Results made disappointing news for the corporate behemoths who spent so many biotech bucks in hopes of thwarting the GMO bans.
Hey, Big Spender!
Of the $1.3 million raised during the campaign, about a million was spent by pro-biotech interests trying to defeat the proposed initiatives — Monsanto, Syngenta, and Du-Pont reportedly spent about $400,000 fighting these small-scale county initiatives.
Last year Oregon’s Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill prohibiting local governments from regulating GMOs, but Jackson county’s initiative was grandfathered in since it was already cleared for the ballot box. Josephine county followed suit, even though the legal status of their initiative is unclear in light of the statewide bill — they say they’ll aim for the will of the voters, and let the courts sort it out if need be.
With that state law already in place, it’s interesting that the agribiz industry was still willing to spend big on this duo of GMO regulation initiatives, tiny in scope and (in one case) likely to be in conflict with existing state law.
Though only directly impacting growers in two Oregon counties, the new restrictions on GMO cultivation have earned well-deserved national attention as legislative mineshaft canaries: the biotech industry’s death grip on agricultural policy in the U.S. is slipping fast, as an increasingly informed consumer base clamors for more sustainable food production.
What’s the Big Deal?
If you’re new to the issues surrounding GMO-driven agriculture, and the reasons voters might want to regulate genetically modified crops more carefully than the current U.S. norm, explore here:
- Science, Sustainability, World Hunger, and GMOs: a Skeptic’s Rebuttal
- Public Good vs. Corporate Greed: The Case for Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods
- Superweeds and Herbicide Use on the Rise
Canary Woozy, Genie Out
Regardless of industry PR spending and/or outrage, the movement towards more responsible regulation of genetically modified crops gains ground by the day.
U.S. consumers now overwhelmingly support GMO labeling; Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont passed GMO labeling laws earlier this year, and similar legislation is pending around the country. In the last few years, counties in Hawaii, California, and Washington state have adopted GMO cultivation bans. National grocery and restaurant chains like Whole Foods, Chipotle, and Ben & Jerry’s have embraced non-GMO and GMO labeling policies, based on ever-growing consumer demand.
Every new GMO regulation measure passed (despite biotech industry thrashing) makes progress ever-more feasible on a national scale. The chemical companies don’t like any of these developments one little bit, and so will frantically spend vast sums to try to wrestle that non-GMO genie back into the (now quite ill-fitting) bottle.
Good luck with that!*
So congratulations Mr. Jackson and Ms. Josephine (County)! Well played, and well done: it looks like good sound progress to me.
Now then… who’s next?!