'Our livelihood is at stake'
Some organic farmers have come together to oppose what they see as a growing threat from genetically modified crops contaminating surrounding fields.
"Our livelihood is at stake," said Mary Alionis, who owns Whistling Duck Farms in the Applegate with her husband, Vince. The Alionis family and other organic farmers on Wednesday threw their support behind Ballot Measure 15-119, which asks voters in the November election to ban GMO crops in Jackson County.
More than a dozen farmers gathered at Fry Family Farm's fields in north Medford off Ross Lane to talk about the economic dangers from genetically modified plants such as sugar beets created by multi-national companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta AG.
Alionis said for the past eight years, her family has grown certified organic crops that it sells through its store in the Applegate.
She said some organic farmers in the valley have destroyed their own seed crop because of contamination from nearby Syngenta GMO crops.
Chris Hardy of Village Farm in Talent said he was forced to till under a crop last spring after it was contaminated by pollen from a nearby GMO crop.
In addition, the GMO plantings, which are Roundup-resistant, require heavy use of herbicides, which also contaminate surrounding fields, the farmers say.
Chi Scherer of Hihoe Produce at Bluebird Farm in Williams said the intensity of spraying on GMO crops could threaten his organic operation.
Fields sprayed with these chemicals kill microorganisms and put fields off-limits for future organic farming.
"We don't want to poison each other," he said.
A political action committee called Our Family Farms Coalition has been formed by the farmers to help support the ballot measure.
Elise Higley of Oshala Farm and director of the coalition said GMOs could be devastating for family farms locally.
She said the ballot measure would protect these farms for the future.
The Jackson County Farm Bureau opposes the ballot measure.
Ron Bjork with the Farm Bureau said it would be expensive for the county to enforce GMO restrictions.
"Can you imagine the county trying to set up an agriculture department to monitor this stuff to tell if it's genetically modified or not?" he said.
He said he hasn't seen anything that would indicate GMOs pose a health risk.
"Nobody's died," he said. "They can't even show where anybody has had any damage because of this."
Bjork said anti-GMO farmers complain about contamination, but noted organic farmers often don't adequately control weeds and the resulting weed pollen blows into neighboring fields.
He said organic farmers have moved into areas where Syngenta has been growing for years.
Bjork said he grows genetically modified crops at his farm in Eagle Point.
"I see no problem planting it," he said. "This GMO alfalfa is good stuff."
Steve Fry of Fry Family Farm said the GMO crops are putting chemicals into the local environment, and the long-term effects of ingesting genetically modified seeds are still unknown.
"I'm in close proximity to Syngenta's farms, which spreads pollen all about my farm," he said. "For me to exercise my right — the fundamental right of farmers — to save seed is ruined by Syngenta, which grows GMO seeds down the street."
He said other nations and areas have banned GMOs despite pressure from the large corporations.
"There's God's plans, and there's the corporate plan," Fry said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/reporterdm.