Residents of Jackson County, Ore., are voting on a measure that would “make it unlawful for any person to propagate, cultivate, raise, or grow genetically engineered crops.”
We oppose the measure and urge voters to reject the ban.
We endorse instead statewide efforts to establish a regulatory framework that would protect all possible legal cropping choices.
Supporters justify the ban because of the threat of contamination by pollen from genetically engineered crops carried to neighboring fields of conventional or organic crops. They say even the threat of such contamination impacts family farmers. And as farmers continue to use less herbicides as farming practices become more precise, supporters maintain that genetically engineered crops have led to an increase.
We stipulate to the fear some growers have that their high-value crops will be ruined by unintended contamination. We support the right of any grower harmed to sue the bejeezus out of the responsible party if an appropriate settlement cannot otherwise be obtained.
The fact is, supporters of the ban can’t point to any Jackson County grower who has been harmed by the cultivation of genetically engineered crops.
Supporters of the measure are quick to point out that 150 farm families favor the ban. We support the right of those 150 families to decide for themselves whether to cultivate genetically engineered crops. We can’t support their attempt to assume that right for all 1,722 farm operators in the county.
We support the right of the handful — 13 according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture — of certified organic growers in Jackson County to pursue their trade. Those organic growers who support the ban should not be allowed to extend their control to their neighbors’ property.
We would with equal vigor oppose any effort by anyone to convince 122,000 Jackson County voters to ban farming practices that did not include the use of synthetic chemicals and genetically engineered crops.
To us that is at the heart of the issue. As James Madison expressed in the Federalist Papers, “The great danger in republics is that the majority will not respect the rights of the minority.”
We don’t believe the majority of Jackson County voters — most who know little about agriculture and who have no economic stake in the industry — have any right to determine for farm operators which legitimate and wholly legal cropping practice they will be allowed to use.
These same voters have every right to support their preferences in the market, to encourage through their purchases the production of non-modified products.
Exerting the police power of the county to enforce today’s popular orthodoxy is a tyranny that once exercised will be all too easy to apply again.