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Phoenix Grange joins effort to ban GMO crops

The Phoenix Grange voted unanimously this week to support GMO-Free Jackson County's efforts to ban genetically modified crops here.

Grange Master Linda Helm, a member of a farm family that goes back many generations, said she supports the ban because "a lot of small farmers are suffering" from their seeds acquiring genetically modified organisms through air- or animal-borne pollen.

Because GMOs are patented, the farmers could be liable for payments to the corporate owner of the altered gene.

"My great-grandparents would roll over in their graves if they could see what's happened to our seed and food," she said.

There were about 15 grange members present for Tuesday's vote supporting a ballot measure banning GMOs. GMO-Free Jackson County must gather 4,662 signatures to put the measure on the ballot, though it's too late for the November election.

The Jackson County Farm Bureau opposes banning GMOs, saying such crops are pest- and herbicide-resistant and can reduce the use of pesticides.

Farm Bureau spokesman Ron Bjork has said many local farmers are eager to plant Roundup-tolerant alfalfa in their fields because it will produce better crop yields.

Grange members had heard from an array of speakers on the subject in the past few months, said grange chaplain Jason Couch.

There was no debate on the resolution, but members had spoken about the issue in previous meetings, said Couch. He added he had made a pitch for the ban based on the harmful effects of GMOs on bees, "which we need more than Monsanto," the maker of many GMO genes.

"GMO plants, engineered to be Roundup-resistant, these befuddle bees," Couch said.

Grange Overseer Chuck McGilvray of Central Point said he supports the ban because GMO fields are being planted closer than the allowable four-mile buffer to conventional crops.

"I'm tremendously concerned, even with the smallest garden," he said.

Grange member Colista Bailey of Jacksonville supports a public vote on the proposal but said there isn't enough hard information yet to decide how to vote at the polls.

"I'm concerned about the organic farmers being put out of business. They do a good thing," said Bailey. "And I'm concerned about our food supply getting altered too much. A lot of hybrids don't reproduce like the originals."

GMO-Free leader Chris Hardy said a ban has support among both older folks and youth, "people who believe agriculture should be close to the land and bio-tech should be about the lab. I have a lot of optimism about the opportunities for young farmers in this."

Couch said the same question will be voted on by the Pomona, or countywide grange, in September.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.