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GMO ballot measure limits property rights

Writer says Jackson County ballot measure threatens private property rights.

By Dalton Straus

For the Capital Press

Published on May 5, 2014 10:00AM

Our family has been farming and ranching in Jackson County for 101 years. When I was growing up, we were primarily a dairy farm. Today we raise beef cattle and grow grain, hay and alfalfa. Our farm has survived and thrived based on our ability to respond to market demands, embrace innovation to improve yields, and change course and crops when we needed to.

I’m very concerned about a proposal that limits our ability to determine how we use our land. Measure 15-119 on the May 20 ballot would ban the growing of GM crops in Jackson County. This proposal is a threat to our family’s and neighbors’ livelihoods and sets a dangerous precedent for agriculture everywhere.

To be clear, if it banned organic farming or any other legal farming practice, I’d fight just as hard to overturn it. Farmers should have the right to determine what they grow and how they grow it, provided it’s legal and safe as determined by the FDA or USDA.

Oregon law backs up that assertion. Passed by the state Legislature in 1993, Oregon’s long-respected Right to Farm and Forest law is meant to protect farmers from government overreach and intrusion. Measure 15-119 likely violates that law, and if passed, would almost certainly face an expensive court challenge.

And that’s just part of the legal hassle. Measure 15-119 opens farmers to frivolous lawsuits by special interest groups and individuals seeking to enforce the ban. Even if the claim turned out false, the farmer would be on the hook for expensive legal fees. I don’t know any farmer that has the time or money to fend off witch hunts by activists.

The threat to our property rights is equally troubling. Measure 15-119 gives government agents “emergency” powers to access private property and confiscate crops on the spot. No legal process or hearing required. This low bar for access to our land is, quite frankly, scary.

This misguided measure does harm to farmers in all the ways mentioned above, and for what end? There is zero credible scientific evidence that supports a ban on GM crops. In fact, venerable organizations, including the American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences and World Health Organization have all validated the benefits of genetic engineering. More than 600 peer-reviewed studies over the past decade confirm the science: GM crops are safe for consumers and the environment. The fear-mongering about GMOs from activists on the other side is catchy – but categorically untrue.

Proponents of Measure 15-119 have a record of running fast and loose with the truth. They claim the measure won’t cost taxpayers a dime. The truth: The county administrator says the county may have to hire an enforcement officer and staff to enforce the law at a possible cost of $219,000 a year. Abatement could run as high as $1.7 million on a single farm, and if the farmer is forced into foreclosure, taxpayers would be on the hook for costs.

At a time the county is cutting positions in the sheriff’s department and social services, I can’t see any good reason to create a new government bureaucracy for policing crops in our county. We have a very capable state Department of Agriculture charged with that responsibility.

The county administrator’s report also identifies consequences to more than just farmers. The measure would ban certain types of grass seed, medical marijuana and ornamental plants like carnations. Yes, carnations. If the proposal wasn’t such a threat to farmers, it would actually be laughable.

Farmers know there are a lot of things out of our control, so we need every tool in the toolbox to make the best decisions for our land. We rely on the research done by universities and biotechnology companies to deliver new tools that create efficiencies and improved yields for family farmers. Embracing new tricks of the trade is how our farm has survived for the past century and will be how we survive another 100 years.

I urge Jackson County voters to reject the stranglehold these arbitrary regulations will put on family farms like ours. And vote No on Measure 15-119.

Dalton Straus is a farmer and cattle rancher from the Sams Valley / Central Point area in Jackson County.


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