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GMO battle brings in outside funds

Opponents of a measure to ban GMOs in Jackson County have out-raised supporters by more than a 3-to-1 margin, with 70 percent of their money coming from outside Oregon.

On Wednesday, the Oregon Secretary of State's website showed that Good Neighbor Farmers, a group against banning GMOs, had raised $876,513 and spent $702,634.

Of that amount, $610,625 came from out-of-state contributors, including $258,294 from Monsanto and Syngenta, multinational companies that sell GMO seeds.

"It is a lot of money, but I think there is a link between money and support," said Ian Tolleson, spokesman for Good Neighbor Farmers, which opposes Measure 15-119. "This is all agriculture looking to Jackson County saying this is not good for agriculture."

The Our Family Farms Coalition, which wants to ban genetically modified crops in Jackson County, had raised $263,286 and spent $249,129. The group also reported $45,313 of in-kind contributions. Thirty-seven percent of its campaign contributions, $96,581, came from outside Oregon.

GMO Free Jackson County had raised $64,228 and spent $74,598. About 42 percent of its funds, $26,680, came from out of state.

"I think the sheer number of supporters really gets some attention," said Elise Higley, a farmer and director for the Our Family Farms Coalition. "It's easy for people to see that there's such a vast majority of farmers who are not growing GMOs."

Supporters of the measure to ban GMOs say pollen from genetically modified crops is a threat to organic farmers, making their crops unmarketable and dealing a blow to the local agricultural economy.

"In this area, contamination is inevitable, and we can really state that as a fact," Higley said.

Supporters of GMOs say the ban would threaten private property rights and be a potential drain on county funds.

"Telling people what they can and cannot do on their property is a dangerous road to go down," Tolleson said.

Both sides said they are spending money on TV, radio and print advertising to get their messages out. Both continue to arrange speaking engagements, including forums and presentations to local groups such as Rotary, granges, farm bureaus and individuals.

"We are doing absolutely everything we can to reach as many Jackson County voters as possible," Higley said. "We've really gone everywhere that we possibly can."

Representatives from GMO Free Jackson County will be at Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Markets Saturday to answer questions from voters and distribute information.

Tolleson said a large chunk of Good Neighbor Farmers' cash has gone to advertising and mailers. He added that new TV ads were recently completed.

"Those are probably what the majority of the money is being spent on," Tolleson said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.