By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- In a legislative hearing, a university biotech specialist characterized bills to regulate biotech crops at the state and county levels as "unwise" and "technologically regressive."
Steve Strauss, professor of forest biotech at Oregon State University and director of the university's Outreach in Biotechnology program, said the bills "are based on poor science ... fundamentally undemocratic ... and appear to contradict federal regulations."
Speaking before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee March 26, Strauss also said the bills "set up a system where the state of Oregon would in effect support the view that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are simply bad and to be avoided. Yet there is abundant data from all over the world that use of GMOs have had large benefits in many crop systems."
The committee is considering whether to move three bills:
* House Bill 2319 allows the Oregon Department of Agriculture to impose safeguards on crops to prevent the spread of genetically engineered materials.
* House Bill 2715 authorizes counties to establish control areas for commodities containing genetically engineered materials.
* House Bill 2736 exempts farmers from liability for inadvertant acquisition or use of GE plants or seeds.
Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who is sponsoring the bills, said they are needed to ensure counties have a right to protect their organic agriculture from biotech crops.
"I think the economic future of my district and my region is at stake," Buckley said.
"Unless we pass the bill clarifying that Jackson County has a right to vote on this issue ... you are making the decision that GMO crops will increase in the Rogue Valley," Buckley said.
"We need to make a decision: Are we going to have the Rogue Valley be famous for organic crops, which we have the reputation for now -- and we have thriving business based on it -- or are we going to have the Rogue Valley ... famous for GMO crops instead?" Buckley asked.
Speaking in opposition to the bills, Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, said organic and genetically engineered crops have co-existed for many years.
"I continue to be amazed by the plethora of bills asking this legislative body to create a preference for one type of agriculture over another," Bushue said. "It is unfortunate and short-sighted. We will need all of agriculture to feed a growing world population.
"Every major medical, health and science organization in the United States has declared these products safe, and in some cases, safer than non-GE crops," Bushue said. "The most recent comprehensive research completed by the European Commission came to that same conclusion.
"House Bill 2715 would usurp the science and give the authority to already cash-strapped counties to oversee and regulate legal, safe products," Bushue said.
The committee took no action on the bills.