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Sides rally on GMO ban

With seven days to go before the May 20 primary election, supporters and opponents of a measure that would ban genetically modified crops in Jackson County headed to downtown Medford Tuesday to make their voices heard.

Hundreds of supporters of Measure 15-119 flocked to the corner of Eighth Street and Oakdale Avenue on Tuesday morning. Rally attendees stood on the corner, holding up signs and garnering numerous honks and some thumbs-up signs from passing motorists.

"This is inspiring. So many people are here," said McKenna Rowe of Talent.

Measure 15-119 supporters say they want genetically modified crops — GMOs — to be banned in Jackson County, citing the contamination of GMO-free crops by GMO pollen being blown into neighboring fields and health effects as reasons.

"This crosses all barriers, race, creed, color, religion, whatever," said horticulturist Mariska Pactwa. "This is about clean food and water for every citizen."

Proponents of Measure 15-119 include numerous farmers and other supporters of the Our Family Farms Coalition political action committee. Our Family Farms director Elise Higley said the gathering's main purpose was to respond to claims from opponents of the ban.

"There's a lot of out-of-town, Salem-based organizations that are here trying to kind of scare people," Higley said. "We really just want the truth to be known, that this is really affecting farmers with commercially grown crops. It doesn't affect home gardeners."

About 25 people attended a noon rally organized by Good Neighbor Farmers, which opposes the measure. Representatives from several statewide farm organizations, including the Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Seed Council and Oregon Women for Agriculture, voiced their opposition to the measure in front of the Jackson County Courthouse.

Measure 15-119 opponents say a ban on GMO crops could be a financial drain on the county because of added enforcement costs, and that it would infringe on private property rights of farmers.

"Our fundamental principals have focused on working together and not against one another," said Marie Bowers, legislative chair for Oregon Women for Agriculture. "This proposed ban clearly does not encourage that."

Measure opponent Marilyn Frink, who farms about 150 acres of GMO alfalfa in Sams Valley, said the ban would infringe on her property rights as a farmer.

"If this passes, it will put a lot of us out business," Frink said.

Funds to both campaigns continue to roll in, with PACs and donors from both sides contributing close to $1.3 million as of Tuesday, according to the Oregon secretary of state's website.

Good Neighbor Farmers had raised more than $907,000 as of Tuesday. GMO Free Jackson County and Our Family Farms Coalition had raised $64,238 and $314,839, respectively.

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

Ian Tolleson, spokesman for Good Neighbor Farmers, speaks in front of others who oppose Measure 15-119 Tuesday in front of the Jackson County offices in Medford. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore