Genetically modified food fight

Jacksonville restaurateur campaigns for GMO ban
Jeff Levin, owner of MacLevin’s restaurant in Jacksonville, is encouraging the Jacksonville City Council to take action against genetically modified crops.Jamie Lusch

JACKSONVILLE — Unhappy when City Council members made no comments following a presentation he gave on the dangers of genetically modified crops at last week's council meeting, a Jacksonville restaurateur says he hopes to get 20 people to speak on the issue during the public comment period at the Sept. 18 meeting.

Jeff Levin had prepared a proposed proclamation supporting a ban on the use of genetically modified seeds in the county. He had hoped the council would endorse it and send it or a letter to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

"I made an impassioned presentation. I wrote a nice, conversational speech," said Levin. "When I was done, there was deathly silence (from the council). Audience members said, 'Thanks, you did a good job.' "

Organic crops can be contaminated by pollen drifting from genetically modified crops, also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, according to reports.

"It's real concerning," said Annette McGregor, who plans to speak Sept. 18. "We could lose all our organic crops if we get cross contamination."

Ashland's City Council voted last week to send a letter to the commissioners asking them to protect organic farming from contamination by genetically modified crops. A petition drive to put a ban on GMO crops to a vote of county residents is being pursued by GMO Free Jackson County.

Mayor Paul Becker said he would put the item on a future council agenda if a council member makes a request.

City Attorney Kurt Knudsen had recommended that the city withhold endorsement of Levin's proclamation pending further study when asked for comments by city officials.

"It is easy to take an immediate, visceral reaction to this issue," Knudsen wrote. "However, the city's position should be based on careful discernment and not just the account of one side, even though that side appears to have some merit."

Councilwoman Christina Duane said she'd favor a study session on the topic and will ask the mayor to consider placing one on an agenda.

"I believe public input is all part of the process. I would be open to an open study session," said Duane. "But we'd have to hear testimony on all sides, and we still might not want to take a stand."

Councilman Paul Hayes said he believes the council doesn't have enough information on GMOs and their effects, and that Levin's presentation lacked balance.

"His presentation seemed very one-sided," said Hayes. "We simply don't know enough to do something, and is it our position to do that?"

Hayes said the council already has a lot of work to do in areas where it knows what is going on.

Upcoming issues include assuming ownership and planning management of historical buildings that Jackson County will transfer to the city, and the potential trade of land in the city's watershed to the Motorcycle Riders Association, subject of a public hearing Oct. 2. The swap has been a contentious issue in the past.

Levin, the owner of McLevin's restaurant in Jacksonville, still hopes his efforts ultimately will lead to council action.

"I didn't think Jacksonville was going to be a problem," said Levin. "I don't understand why we as a people can't have our wishes met by government."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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