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Opposition to genetically engineered foods misguided

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013


Once again activists are trying to raise public fears about genetically engineered (GE) foods.

It’s hard to believe there’s anything more about GE foods to debate. In 2002, 70% of Oregon voters resoundingly rejected the idea of labeling foods containing GE ingredients. In the decade since, more and more farmers are choosing to grow biotech crops.

Last year 88% of the corn grown in the U.S. was genetically engineered, up from 34 percent of corn grown in 2002. More than 90% of all cotton, canola and soybeans grown in the U.S. also are biotech varieties.

Why are farmers planting biotech crops? Since they were first approved by federal agriculture and food safety regulators, experience globally has shown that GE crops have increased yields and broadly reduced negative impacts of farming on the environment.

Genetic engineering has been used to improve crop insect resistance, enhance crop herbicide tolerance and allow the use of more environmentally sustainable farming practices such as “low-till” or “no-till” farming.

But anti-GE zealots continue to claim plants improved using biotechnology somehow pose dangers, despite ever-mounting evidence to the contrary from scientists and food regulators around the world. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the National Research Council of the National Academies of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association have all concluded that biotech derived foods are as safe as their non-GE counterparts.

Last November, California voters defeated another labeling initiative like the defeated Oregon measure. Voters in both states spurned the labeling proposals because they were deceptive, confusing and costly. Editorials in all the major newspapers across California recommended a no vote.

The defeat of two labeling ballot measures 10 years apart hasn’t stopped GE opponents. In Washington State, anti-GE groups presented yet another labeling initiative to legislators earlier this year. And two labeling bills were introduced in the Oregon legislature.

In addition to labeling, some anti-GE groups are now seeking to ban the growing of biotech crops. A local initiative in Jackson County is one example.

Such crop bans arguably violate Oregon’s Right to Farm laws. In Oregon, farmers have the right to choose what crops and farm production technologies work best for them to produce products that meet the needs of markets they choose to serve. Local laws can’t interfere with those rights.

But activists argue that the growing of biotech crops is a risk to organic farmers. Despite such claims, no hard data shows any economic losses resulting from unintended presence of GE material in organic crops.

What farmers want is the right to decide for themselves how they farm and what they grow. The Oregon Board of Agriculture has outlined state policies to support the “wise management of all production systems on farmlands and agriculture applications, striving for economic viability, natural resource stewardship, good neighbor and employee relations, and community connections.”

The “good neighbor” advice in the board’s policy encourages cooperative coexistence among farmers. Coexistence is especially important given the diversity of production practices in agriculture today.

Coexistence is not a new idea. Farmers operate within communities and most already cooperate with neighbors toward their common success.

While talk of coexistence currently centers around GE and organic crops, biotech crops do not create any risks different from those posed by organic or conventional crops. The principles of coexistence and the need to preserve the integrity of crops apply to all agricultural production.

Oregon State University’s Agricultural Extension Service offers unique capabilities to help guide coexistence efforts for farmers in the state. Extension agents can help farmers and others in the food and feed production chain get the education they need about their respective roles in making coexistence work, particularly regarding stewardship, contracting and attention to gene flow.

The Willamette Valley Specialty Seed Association in one of the best examples of managed coexistence. A similar structure is under consideration in Southern Oregon – a better approach to organic producers concerns than banning GE crops.

Many Jackson County Farm Bureau members are discussing the best way to encourage coexistence among farmers in the Rogue Valley. Taking a page from Board of Agriculture, some Rogue Valley farmers have formed a loose coalition called the Good Neighbor Farmers.

Most in Oregon’s farming and food production industry share the view of Jackson County’s Good Neighbor Farmers. The right idea is collaboration, cooperation and coexistence.

Costly labeling laws and crop bans don’t make sense, aren’t good for consumers and would hurt Oregon farmers. Being good neighbors is good for everyone.

Scott Dahlman is executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter

Editor's Note:  Oregon Business accepts opinion pieces on topics relevant to the state's business community. See Op-Ed submission guidelines here.



-4 #1 GE grain and celiacGuest 2013-04-09 17:56:53
After suddenly devloping celiac disease at age 60 I believe the GE grains/wheat rye/barley have caused a dramatic increase in gluten intolerance
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+5 #2 RE: Opposition to genetically engineered foods misguidedGuest 2013-04-09 18:42:57
While I am sorry to hear about your celiac disease, you should know that there are currently no GE varieties of wheat, rye, or barley commercially available.
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+1 #3 misguided oppositionGuest 2013-04-09 20:24:11
Think about it. Perhaps you have the cure for celiac disease? Avoid gmos. Eat organic. No one will get celiac disease ever again. Sadly that is misguided and we know that this isnt a cure and yes there are no gm wheat, rye or barley varieties available. Isnt this really about scaring people into paying a lot more money and buying organic?
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+4 #4 frothing zealotGuest 2013-04-09 22:18:20
OK in Jackson County 6700 citizens signed the petition to put Measure 15-119 on 15-119 - that's a lot of zealots. Over 100 FARMS! have signed a written support statement for a GMO crop ban , zealots all, over 250 businesses restaurants and organizations in Jackson County have signed the same support statement. And as for good neighbors? The foreign corporation here that started this whole affair continues to plant GMO beets for seed production well within the boundaries required for safe seed production letting their pollen drift where the wind will take it. They have made crass cash offers to simply buy out their organic neighbors seed production. The costs of coexistence are borne by organic and sustainable growers...... some neighbor.
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+4 #5 Show Me the ScienceGuest 2013-04-09 22:59:29
No till? Superweeds are destroying no-till propaganda. Google Italian Ryegrass and Mississsippi corn - they now have to spray twice as much and plow in the pesticides in to control the superweeds. Higher Yield? see last months Univ of Wisconsin USDA report on GMO maize yields - bottom line, very mixed results for GMOs. New stacked trait varieties are even riskier? Less pesticides? Google Charles Benbrook's Wash St Univ 20 year study - bottom line? way more pesticides - is that enough science?
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+1 #6 Hmmm... No GE Wheat?Guest 2013-04-10 00:04:54
Quoting Guest:
While I am sorry to hear about your celiac disease, you should know that there are currently no GE varieties of wheat, rye, or barley commercially available.

What is MON 71800 if not GE wheat? I guess I'm a bit agnostic on GE crops, but I would like to know what I'm eating, which can only happen if food are labeled.
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+4 #7 farmerGuest 2013-04-10 00:24:55
I spent 20 years in the grocery packaging and advertising business. All package food companies constantly change their packaging for endless reasons, better design, improved communication, change of ingredients, change of nutrition, etc. There is no incremental cost to changing packaging to include GMO labeling because the packaging is always changing. Just bundle it into the next change. It is entertaining to see how clueless the author is about packaging costs.
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0 #8 Good Neighbors?Guest 2013-04-10 04:02:59
Who are the Good Neighbor Farmers and who is their contact?
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-1 #9 Half the storyGuest 2013-04-10 04:21:40
Last June the AMA dcided not to support GMO labelling, but they did say unbequivocally that due to risks that MANDATORY pre-release safety testing should be required before they go to market - that's not the same as saying they are safe. see http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-06-19/features/chi-gmos-should-be-safety-tested-before-they-hit-the-market-says-ama-20120619_1_bioengineered-foods-ama-drug-cosmetic-act
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+2 #10 Follow the moneyGuest 2013-04-10 05:20:13
This biased and cynical op-ed comes to us courtesy of the pro-GMO and pro-pesicide lobbies. Oregonians for Food and Shelter is not a public interest group and Mr. Dahlman could care less about feeding the hungry or Oregonian's "right to farm." What is at stake in this battle is no less than the future of food. Do we want a few dizzyingly powerful corporations to control the entire food genome? Do we want all our food to be doused with pesticides ("RoundUp Ready")? On a smaller and more immediate scale, do we want corporate lobbies pre-empting local jurisdictions from making decisions that suit their communities? How is it that Jackson County becoming a GMO-free zone would stamp on the rights of farmers? I don't buy this position for a second and I hope our state legislators won't either.
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+2 #11 synthetic organization?Guest 2013-04-10 13:57:29
Scott Dahlman: Who are the "Good Neighbor Farmers" and who is their contact point person? Google searches come up only with insurance agents. Is this organization real world or does it only exist in this article?
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-1 #12 RE: Opposition to genetically engineered foods misguidedGuest 2013-04-11 01:16:31
Why are all of these anti GE people so ignorant? Round up is an herbicide, not a pesticide. There are no commercially available GMO wheat, barleys, or oats, meaning no humans, or animals are eating them.
This type of ignorant fear mongering is the same baseless, misguided, hate, and fear that drives racist groups, jihadists, and homophobes. The anti GE crowd has aligned themselves with the worst of the worst.
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+2 #13 Jihadist Zealots exposedGuest 2013-04-12 04:46:58
OK here are the farms in the Rogue Valley, Jackson COunty that support a GMO crop ban - Measure 15-119 see for yourself who are the "ignorant fear mongering racist groups, jihadists, and homophobes" they are all frothy zealots too!

Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market
Evans Creek Enterprise Grange # 489, Rogue River
Phoenix Grange #779, Phoenix
Williams Grange #399, Williams
Talent Evening Market, Talent
AB Seeds, Talent
Abbie Lane Farms, Gold Hill
Adam’s Farm, Ashland
Alpha Beta Hops Farm, Ashland
Anam Cara Gardens, Ashland
Andrew Mount Farm, Talent
Antonio's Farm, White City
Ayala Orchards, Ashland
Barking Moon Farm, Applegate
Barn Dog Farm, Williams
Bel Avenir Farm, Ashland
Bigham Farms, Medford
Blackberry Lane Farms, Grants Pass
Blue Fox Farm, Applegate
By George Farm, Jacksonville
Callahan Seeds, Central Point
Confluence Organics, Williams
Cordeiro Farm, Cave Junction
Creekside Botanicals, Gold Hill
Dancing Bear Farm, Williams
Deason Peonies, Medford
DeLuca Family Fig Farm, Talent
Diggin Livin Farm & Apiary, Cave Junction
Dunbar Farms, Medford
Eagle Mill Farm, Ashland
Easy Valley Farm, Rogue River
Edenvale Winery, Medford
Elk Creek Garden, Trail
Elk Haven Ranch, Ashland
Family Farmers Seed Cooperative, Williams
Flying Bee Farm, Phoenix
Flying Heart Farm, Ashland
Four Eagles Farm, Montague
Fry Family Farm, Talent
Full Bloom Farm, Jacksonville
Full Circle Bison Ranch, Williams
Fusion Farm, Ashland
Gardenseed, Medford
Gordons' Greenhouse, Grants Pass
Happy Days Products, Central Point
HappyDirt Veggie Patch, Medford
Hensel Family Farms, Rogue River
Hi Hoe Produce at Bluebird Farm, Williams
Hi Hoe Produce at Bluebird Farm, Williams
Horizon Herbs, LLC, Williams
Hunter Orchards, Grenada
Illinois Valley Organics, Selma
Iron Age Farm, Jacksonville
L & R Family Farm, Grants Pass
Lakotas Garden, Medford
Le Mera Gardens, Talent
Little Sprouts Farm, White City
Living Earth Gardens, Williams
Lupine Knoll Farm, Provolt
Meadowlark Family Farm, Ashland
Mud Puddle Farm, Applegate
Munson’s Farm, Talent
Naturespirit Herbs LLC, Williams
Neighborhood Harvest, Ashland
Nolte Family Farm, Central Point
Old Sol Apiary, Rogue River
Peace Farms, Applegate
Pennington Farms, Grants Pass
Pheasant Hill Vineyard, Talent
Pholia Farm Creamery, Rogue River
Restoration Seeds, Ashland
Rogue Farmers LLC, Talent
Rogue Valley Brambles, Talent
Rolling Hills Farm, Medford
Runnymede Farm, Rogue River
Salant Family Ranch, Jacksonville
Seven Seeds Farm, Williams
Sierra Vista Gardens, Medford
Siskiyou Seeds, Williams
Some Kind of Wonderful, Greensprings
South Creek Farm, Greensprings
Southern Oregon Carnivorous Plants, Ashland
Sun Spirit Farm, Williams
Swallow Springs Farm, Rogue River
Synergy Seed Exchange, Willow Creek
Terra Vila Springs, Ashland
The Briar Patch Farm & Education Center, Grants Pass
The Cherry Orchard, Winston
The Farming Fish, Rogue River
Thompson Creek Organics, Applegate
UR Organic/West Medford Farm Team, Ashland
Valley View Orchards, Ashland
Village Farm, Ashland
Wagon Trail Gardens, Jacksonville
Walker Creek Farm, Central Point
Wandering Fields, Jacksonville
Whistling Duck Farm, Grants Pass
White Oak Farm, Williams
White's Country Farm, Medford
Wild Bee Honey Farm Gardens, Eagle Point
Willow Witt Ranch, Ashland
Yale Creek Ranch, Jacksonville
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-1 #14 GuestGuest 2013-04-12 05:38:03
Most of those "farms" are wannabes, little 1-2 acre hobby farms, pretending to be a farm. 100 farms, 250 businesses, and 6700 people? Big deal! That's just a small, uneducated portion of the population.
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0 #15 RE: Opposition to genetically engineered foods misguidedGuest 2013-04-12 06:51:02
You obviously have no idea where your food comes from. I guess if you shop at Safeway, that's sort of the point. You are completely divorced from the people who produce your food and how it impacts your health. The GMO issue is a simple right to know issue. I don't have a problem with you being ignorant about where your food comes from if you don't have an issue with me being informed. Deal? And this is not just about personal choice. What's your issue against Jefferson County becoming a GMO-free zone? Mendocino County in California has been a GMO-free zone for decades and it's only enhanced their ability to compete in the free marketplace.
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