The Ashland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to send a letter asking Jackson County commissioners to take whatever action they deem necessary to protect organic farming in the county from genetically modified crops.
Organic food cannot contain genetically modified organisms, according to national organic standards.
Organic crops could be contaminated by pollen drifting in from fields of genetically modified crops, causing organic farmers to lose their ability to sell their crops, according to area residents who testified at a City Council meeting on Tuesday.
One local farmer said he had to dump $4,400 worth of seed that he would normally sell to seed-packet companies because his crops potentially had been contaminated by genetically modified chard growing less than three miles away.
A United States Department of Agriculture standard calls for genetically modified crops to be at least four miles away from other crops, residents said.
"This is not only a health issue but an economic issue," said City Councilwoman Carol Voisin.
Through its Natural Resources Advisory Committee, Jackson County government has been exploring the feasibility of adopting an ordinance that would ban the use of genetically modified seeds in the county.
The earliest that committee is likely to make a recommendation to the county commissioners is January of 2013, said Ashland City Administrator Dave Kanner.
The issue of genetically modified food continues to be debated around the world, with some saying the crops could harm the environment, the organic food industry and people's health.
Others say crops can be genetically engineered to withstand insect pests and drought, as well as produce higher yields to feed a growing and often impoverished world population.
Ashland, Talent and Central Point residents who spoke at Tuesday's meeting said genetically engineered crops often contain toxins to repel insects, but the toxins can harm people.
They also said some genetically modified crops are designed to withstand heavy applications of herbicides and insecticides, but that leads to "super" weeds and insects with heightened resistance to chemicals.
That in turn leads to the use of even stronger chemicals, they said.
Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.