Modified GMO ballot language spawns a peace

Though sides agree, deadline to put modified food issue on November ballot has passed

Opponents and supporters of genetically modified crops approve of the wording of a ballot title written by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Dan Harris this week.

"It's fine," said Ron Bjork with the Jackson County Farm Bureau, who supports genetically modified crops. "It's much more neutral than the other one."

GMO ballot-title wording

The ballot title prepared by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Dan Harris for a proposed initiative to ban genetically engineered crops in Jackson County says:

Caption: Ordinance to Ban Growing of Some "Genetically-Engineered" (defined) Plants.

Question: Should Ordinance Ban Growing of "Genetically-Engineered" Plants (defined) in Jackson County and Allow County/Private Persons to Compel Enforcement?

Summary: This ordinance would ban any person from propagating, cultivating, raising or growing "genetically-engineered" (defined) plants in Jackson County.

The Ordinance also:

  • Requires affected persons to harvest, destroy or remove all genetically engineered plants within 12 months of the enactment of the ordinance;
  • Provides exemptions for certain health, educational, scientific and medical research institutions if activities are conducted under secure, indoor laboratory conditions;
  • Allows for inspections of private property by County code enforcement officers after obtaining a search warrant;
  • Allows for enforcement of the ordinance by the County and by private persons or groups through the State court system;
  • Provides for contested hearings and appeals for alleged violations;
  • Allows the county to recover the cost of abatement from the property owner or the person causing the violation;
  • Defines the terms "genetically engineered," "organic agriculture," and "organic."

The ballot title gives voters a brief summary of a proposed ordinance that would ban genetically altered plants in Jackson County, including those that already are growing here.

Bjork and the group GMO Free Jackson County earlier had disputed a ballot title written by Mark Huddleston, Jackson County district attorney.

Eli Dumitru with the GMO Free group said the new version was clear and easy to understand. "I was very pleased with it," he said.

With the ballot title written, Dumitru said he's not sure when voters in Jackson County will get to decide whether they want to ban genetically modified crops.

Once the Jackson County clerk reviews the documents, opponents of genetically modified organisms, referred to as GMOs, will attempt to gather 4,662 valid signatures. The clerk's office suggests gathering 6,000 to 6,500 in case some signatures are deemed invalid.

At this point, the deadlines for qualifying for the November election have passed.

Dumitru hopes Jackson County commissioners will call for a special election rather than having to wait for the primary or general election in 2014.

Bjork said the farm bureau, which has 4,000 members, opposes the ordinance, but will wait until it qualifies for the ballot before describing the importance of genetically modified crops.

"We're going to mount a vigorous campaign to defeat it," he said.

Bjork said humans have been modifying crops for thousands of years, and genetical manipulation is just an outgrowth of that effort.

"If we had corn like we first got it, we wouldn't be growing any corn," he said.

Bjork has said many local farmers are eager to plant Roundup-tolerant alfalfa in their fields because it will produce better crop yields; the herbicide would kill weeds but not the crop.

Local organic farmers voiced their concerns earlier this year when they discovered genetically modified beets already were being grown in the county.

Jackson County Commissioner Don Skundrick said it's too late for the commissioners haven't had a chance to analyze the issue.

Skundrick said the commissioners could call for a special election next spring, though he's not sure whether there is enough support for that on the board. Also, the cost to the county to run a special election could be as high as $150,000, he said.

Skundrick said he can understand the concerns of organic growers and seed producers, but he said he is reluctant to play Big Brother against the companies producing genetically modified crops.

"It's a complex issue," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email

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