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Believe science, not ideology, in GMO debate

Both sides bring their own set of facts to the debate over a ballot measure that would ban GMO plants in Jackson County. In our research of the issue, we came up with two primary facts that decided the matter for us:

  • The basic argument against GMOs — genetically modified organisms — is based on a health risk premise that has never been proven.
  • The benefits of GMOs, however, have been proven, and to exclude Jackson County, its farmers and its economy from those benefits and potential future benefits is a decision that flies in the face of common sense.

With that as a base, we cannot support Measure 15-119, which would ban all genetically modified plants from the county.

In the end, this is about believing science or believing an ideology. The science has been consistent and as clear as possible: GMOs have not been found to cause health problems and in fact have had the opposite effect by increasing crop yields and nutritional value and improving the economic status of tens of millions of people across the planet.

We cannot escape the comparison of the anti-GMO movement with that of the global warming deniers. They will not be swayed by science because they have embraced an ideology that cannot accept that science.

Locally, the issue has been raised by organic, non-GMO farmers, who said the presence of GMO seed crops affects their ability to grow and sell non-GMO seeds. That could very well be true, but only because they are dealing in a farm economy based on the unproven premise that GMOs are a health threat.

The issue is vastly complicated and filled with debates over the effects of gene-doubling, microencapsulation, protoplast fusion and similar terms that not 1 in 100 voters understands. And yet those voters are being asked to deny local farmers their right to grow sugar beets, corn and alfalfa that now cover thousands of acres in Southern Oregon.

The issue is also complicated by the presence of massive corporations such as Syngenta and Monsanto that have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into defeating the measure. For some, their very presence is reason to vote for the measure. To them, we say, look at the science, not the campaign.

The science shows that genetic engineering has vastly improved crop yields, particularly in less-developed countries where farming is still manually intensive.

GMOs have been developed that infuse rice with Vitamin A, a development that in a few years' time could save millions of children from death and blindness. A GMO has been created that would resist the blight that has killed off chestnut trees in this country. Several variations of drought-resistant GMOs are being developed that will allow crops to flourish with much less water — a not insignificant fact considering the predictions of increasing worldwide temperatures.

The Hawaiian papaya industry would not exist and the fruit would be wiped out on the islands by a virus had not a GMO papaya been developed. What could GMO developments mean in future years for the pear industry and local grape growers?

Yet, while the papaya industry was saved, the global crusade against GMOs later convinced politicians on the Big Island of Hawaii to ban GMOs (while exempting papayas, of course). For a fascinating look at how that all unfolded and how ideology can overcome science, check out the New York Times story at mailtribune.com/nytpapaya.

Because they sell their seed to non-GMO buyers, some local growers do face a real risk. There are ways to lessen that risk, through crop selection, timing of plantings and improving communications with neighboring farmers. It's also worth noting that, contrary to some claims, no one has ever been sued by corporate seed growers because they sold seed that had been inadvertently contaminated by GMO pollen.

But, because their primary buyers have bought into the anti-GMO ideology, those local growers do face an economic risk. Is it right, however, to transfer that risk instead to other farmers, by banning their crops and forcing them to plow under thousands of acres?

There are many unknowns about the effects of this measure, because it bans all GMO plants, and not just crops. It may technically make some common fruits and vegetables illegal, limiting your choice of what you can plant in your own garden.

There are not bad people on either side of this debate locally, and it's unfortunate that it has proven so divisive in the farming community. It would be vastly more unfortunate if voters ignored the science and supported this measure.

Vote no on Measure 15-119.