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Genetically engineered plants threaten health, economy

GMO-Free Jackson County strongly disagrees with Ron Bjork's guest opinion of June 10, representing the Farm Bureau. Mr. Bjork claimed that genetic engineering "... has already resulted in the creation of crops that are pest and herbicide resistant, reducing the use of pesticides."

What part of this is true? Some genetically engineered crops, such as Bt corn, have been engineered so that the plant is creating insecticide within every cell of the plant. So it's true that you don't need to spray as much insecticide on the outside of the plant. Which would you prefer, normal produce that you can wash the insecticide off of, or GE produce that has insecticide in every cell?

What is not true is that herbicide-resistant plants are sprayed with less herbicide. "Herbicide resistant" means the plants were genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with more herbicide. According to a 2009 study by the Center for Food Safety, biotech crops caused a big jump in pesticide use, an overall increase on U.S. farm fields of 318 million pounds of pesticides over the first 13 years.

Then why would the Farm Bureau make such a statement? There is a lot of money behind the new genetically engineered plants. The corporations who profit from them are the main source for misinformation about them.

The fact is, the majority of genetically engineered plants contain genes from completely unrelated species and result in creations that could not occur in nature. These artificial organisms are foreign to the human digestive system.

There are no peer-reviewed studies published proving the safety of genetically engineered food for human or animal consumption. The government doesn't study or test GE plants for food safety.

Lobbyists for the corporations that sell GE seeds have been appointed to the regulatory agencies that are supposed to ensure the safety of our food. There are no government regulations that require GE foods to be proven safe to eat. The Farm Bureau says government agencies claim GE foods are safe, but fails to point out that there is no basis for that claim.

Reports of human and animal health problems related to genetically engineered plants need to be investigated. We are all part of the biggest biological experiment in history, with no one tracking the results.

The claim that GE crops can co-exist with nonGE crops is based on the theory that pollen travels less than four miles. Dr. Carol Mallory-Smith of Oregon State University stated: "'I don't think it is possible to prevent gene movement with the technology the way it is ... ." In 1998, genetically engineered papaya was planted in Hawaii. By 2004, 50 percent of the nonGE papaya in Hawaii was contaminated, including the organic papaya. With wind and insects carrying GE pollen far and wide, it has not stayed contained to a 4-mile radius of where it's planted.

When GE pollen contaminates organic crops, those crops are no longer organic, by definition. That is why "co-existence" with GE plants is unrealistic. The Farm Bureau claims that: "... the unintentional presence of GE traits does not take away the USDA Organic Certification for a crop." Actually, USDA regulations state that: "Organic food is produced without ... bioengineering." Is it the Farm Bureau's position that it's fine to sell genetically engineered food labeled as "organic" as long as the contamination was unintentional?

Economic damage from GE crops isn't limited to organic farmers. Plants engineered to be resistant to herbicides have themselves become weeds. Imagine being a conventional farmer growing strawberries and having your fields infested with GE sugar beets that herbicides can't kill. GE sugar beets, GE bentgrass and GE canola plants have all become herbicide-resistant weeds that have infested other crops.

We agree with the Farm Bureau that: "Our crop diversity is a strength." However, genetically engineered crops have greatly accelerated the reduction of crop diversity. In 2011, 94 percent of the soybeans and 73 percent of the corn planted in the U.S. were genetically engineered.

Three counties in California have already banned growing genetically engineered plants, as early as 2004. Their unique position in the agricultural market has benefited their farmers, as more and more consumers look for safe, natural foods. "Grown in GMO-Free Jackson County, Oregon" can become a desirable, safe and trusted agricultural brand, if we pass our proposed ban on growing GE crops. For more information, see www.gmofreejacksoncounty.org/.

Eli Dumitru is a founding member and on the steering committee of GMO-Free Jackson County. He has lived in Oregon for 27 years, 11 of those in Jackson County.