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Proposed ban too broad, will hurt local agriculture

A lady came to my door earlier this week asking me to support the proposed ban on GMOs in Jackson County. I told her I couldn't do it because a broad measure like this would deny local farmers the opportunity to utilize the innovations of agricultural research for years to come.

GMOs are genetically modified plants developed by crop scientists to contain specific traits such as higher yields, or resistance to drought, certain insects or pesticides. The ballot measure would prevent the use of these new plants in our county.

I have long been an admirer of Normal Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize 40 years ago for his role in leading the Green Revolution. His team developed specific new strains of wheat and other cereal grains (much like GMO researchers are working on now) that were specifically designed for the growing conditions in various Third World countries. They then helped those farmers use these new seeds and converted them from using animal manure to modern chemical fertilizers. Before long, yields increased, the peasant farmers were making profits and people in their countries had ample, reasonably priced food. It was a dramatic example of the benefits of agricultural research.

At this point, the campaign worker told me that GMOs weren't really good science and it was all about big profits for greedy corporations. I guess good science and bad science are all in the eye of the beholder. GMOs provide farmers with new crop varieties that can provide higher yields at lower costs without the extensive use of chemical pesticides. Isn't that what society has been asking for?

Right now much of the basic agricultural research is either being done in the land grant universities such as Oregon State or in the labs of big ag companies. If either is lucky enough to develop a successful new plant, they will patent and license it, marketing the seeds to farmers everywhere. The income from these sales goes to the university foundations or the corporations. Eventually the profits trickle down to the growers who achieve higher yields at lower costs. Is that really greedy and bad? Isn't it American capitalism at its best?

Everyday we enjoy the benefits of science and technology — in our smartphones, cars and planes and an abundant, nutritious food supply. A blanket prohibition on the use of ag research in Jackson County doesn't make sense. Perhaps if we were looking at a specific ban of one or two new GMO seed varieties that presented a problem to very specific crops in Jackson County, I would consider it. But what we have is a sweeping ban that would set back local agriculture for years and years.

I strongly urge voters to reject this measure.

Rich Hansen has a master's degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin and is the former president of the Agricultural Relations Council. He has lived in Medford for 11 years.