GMOs And The Ballot Box

May 18, 2015 08:10 AM
GMOs And The Ballot Box

The GMO debate takes us to Oregon where one county is set to vote on banning GMOs. But it could also set the future of science and research at the state’s land grant school. Benton County, Oregon residents will vote this week on whether to ban the growth and cultivation of GMO within their county. This measure is not limited to food but also aimed at GMO-based plants and the outcome could have a profound impact on scientific research.

Some neighboring counties in Oregon have voted in the past on whether ban the use of GMOs. However, the Benton County Measure 2-89 applies to Corporations and Government. That includes research and studies at Oregon State University.

“If this measure were to pass, many of the research projects at Oregon State University would be forced to change in ways that we’re not really clear how they would be yet,” said Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences Dean, Daniel Arp.

Oregon State University and its employees cannot support or oppose ballot measures but they are able to talk about the potential impact of Benton County measure 2-89. OSU Contacts say 8 out of 12 colleges could be impacted. These are fields ranging from chemistry to agriculture to pharmacy. The University estimates Oregon State could lose over $18 Million in funding.

“The University estimates about 120 professors on campus directly in use with GMO research projects. Each of those professors has at least one research project and many have several. We’re talking about several hundred research projects that could be potentially impacted by this measure,” said Arp.

“I would lose months and months or years of work,” said Oregon State University professor, Joseph Beckman.

Joe Beckman has been researching Lou Gehrig’s disease since 1993. He uses GMOs in his studies. If the measure passes, he could have to destroy his findings.

“We could still teach about what this technology is but they would never be able to use it in their own laboratories. That would impact every laboratory course that we teach within biochemistry, microbiology and the pharmacy school,” said Beckman.

That’s not just impacting education but also preventing Oregon State University from registering or patenting things like seeds.

“There are those who argue it would have little impact because it only impacts those things that deal with community food systems. There are others however who look at words the measure that clearly say that all genetically engineered organisms would be prohibited,” said Arp.

Supporters of the measure say it’s only about food.

“I did want to say something about why there is no waiver in there for research. One is because it wasn’t necessary because this is so obviously about food,” said Benton Food Freedom Communications Director, Stephanie Hampton.  

But the language says otherwise. The language offers no exemptions for non-food organisms.

Section 3. Statements of Law- Prohibitions Necessary To Secure Bill Of Rights:

(b) It shall be unlawful for any corporation or governmental entity to engage in the use of genetically engineered organisms within Benton County.

Hampton admits the measure has been criticized as being poorly written adding most supporters do not wish to harm the non-food GMO research at OSU.

“What needs to happen, is that it needs to be adjudicated by a court of law, not by OSU’s attorneys to determine that this is what the writers and the voters intend to be just a local food system ordinance,” said Hampton.

If it passes, whether that happens, remains to be seen.

“If that’s the way to court interprets it. If they uphold those words, the impacts on the College of Agricultural Sciences will be profound,” said Arp.

Now if this passes, this would require GMOs to be removed or destroyed within 90 days from when the county clerk certifies the election results. Farmers within that county would have to remove GMO crops without compensation. A violation of the ordinance could be both a civil violation and criminal offense.

Now you may remember Oregon has a statute preventing local jurisdictions from creating their own GMO regulations. However, supporters of this measure say they have the right to self-govern. So if the measure does pass, it could be challenged. A circuit court judge may have to decide if the measure is unlawful.

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