In a victory for sustainable food advocates everywhere, two counties in Oregon on Tuesday voted to ban the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Despite an onslaught of spending by agribusiness giants such as DuPont and Monsanto, voters in Jackson County and Josephine County overwhelming took a stand for measures protecting "seed sovereignty and local control" of food systems. The Jackson Measure 15-119 passed 66-34 percent, while the Josephine County Measure 17-58 passed 58-42 percent.
"It's a great day for the people of Oregon who care about sustainability and healthy ecosystems!" GMO Free Oregon wrote on their Facebook page after receiving the final tally.
“The people of Jackson and Josephine Counties have given the rest of the country a model – and the inspiration – to protect local communities."
—Rebecca Spector, Center for Food Safety
“Tonight family farmers stood up for our basic right to farm,” cheered Elise Higley, Jackson County farmer and campaign director for the Our Family Farms Coalition, in a statement following the vote.
Calling the bans a "tremendous victory" for the citizens and farmers of the counties, as well as for the national anti-GMO movement, Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), said the votes are further proof that, when given a voice, citizens will choose a sustainable food system over corporate-dominated agribusiness.
"These victories make it clear to agribusiness giants like Monsanto and Dow that the day has come when they can no longer buy and lie their way to victory," Cummins said. "By using the tools of democracy, such as ballot initiatives, citizens can overcome corporate and government corruption through honest campaigns, built on a foundation of truth, science and fair play."
In Jackson County, proponents of the ban raised only $375,000 compared with the nearly $1 million raised by the opposition, whose donors included Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont Pioneer. Spending in Josephine County was lower on both sides. According to OCA, the Josephine ban will likely be tested in court after that state's passage of the controversial law S.B. 863 in October 2013, stripping counties of the right to pass GMO bans. The Jackson County measure is exempt because it had qualified for the ballot prior to the passage of the law.
The Oregon counties now join a growing list of communities who have enacted similar bans including Santa Cruz County, Trinity County, Marin County and Mendocino County in California, and San Juan County in Washington state, as well as numerous cities nationwide. Hawaii’s Big Island and Oahu have banned GE taro and coffee.
Earlier this month, Vermont passed a landmark law which mandates that all GE foods sold in the state must be labeled. Unlike Conneticut and Maine, which passed measures that require a certain number of other states to also enact GMO legislation, Vermont's law has no such "trigger clause."
"Where the federal government has failed, local efforts like this are taking action," said George Kimbrell, Portland-based senior attorney for Center for Food Safety (CFS). "The tide is turning towards a sustainable food future and GE-free zones are a vital step.”
“The people of Jackson and Josephine Counties have given the rest of the country a model – and the inspiration – to protect local communities," added Rebecca Spector, who spearheads state labeling initiatives for CFS. "This is just the beginning.”