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Oregon's GMO battle is far from over

It was tempting to view the statewide vote over Measure 92, the initiative to require labels on food that have been genetically modified, as yet another issue pitting rural Oregonians against their urban counterparts.

But the final county-by-county tallies on Measure 92, which was defeated by just 837 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast, suggest a somewhat more complex picture — and also suggest some interesting trends at work for the next ballot battle over GMO foods. (That next battleground could be in Benton County, where a local GMO initiative could be on the ballot as early as May.)

Of Oregon's 36 counties, Measure 92 lost in 28 of them.

One of the eight counties that approved the measure was Benton County, but by a smaller margin than you might expect. The measure passed here by about 1,600 votes out of nearly 38,000 cast.

Across the river in Linn County, the measure was rejected by nearly 10,000 votes. With its strong agricultural ties, you would expect that kind of result in Linn County.

Also as you would expect: The counties that enthusiastically backed Measure 92 tended to be among the state's most populous: Our friends in Multnomah County, for example, approved the measure by nearly 75,000 votes. Lane County voters also favored the measure by nearly 23,000 votes.

But then the large vs. small split breaks down a bit. The measure lost by nearly 10,000 votes in Clackamas County. It lost by a narrower margin of not quite 7,000 votes in Washington County. Marion County voters rejected the measure by more than 17,000 votes.

The smallest county to support the measure was Hood River, where it passed by a little more than 600 votes out of 8,497 cast. Hood River, for what this is worth, is the easternmost of the eight counties where the measure was approved: Every one of the 17 counties east of Hood River rejected the measure.

The other counties where the measure succeeded are a somewhat mixed lot: Clatsop, Curry and Lincoln counties share coastline along the Pacific. Voters in Jackson County in May approved a measure banning GMOs entirely, so the win there for Measure 92 wasn't much of a surprise.

Speaking of events that weren't surprises: The ban in Jackson County has been dragged into court, and it's a sure thing that will happen in Benton County if voters approve a similar measure that proponents hope to have on the ballot by May.

The bottom line here is that, county by county, the fault lines in the GMO debate aren't nearly as clear-cut as one might think. This is not merely an urban-vs.-rural issue or a liberal-vs.-conservative issue.

It's also not an issue that's going away. The county-by-county results for Measure 92 pose opportunities and puzzles for proponents and opponents alike as they prepare for the next battle — which could be coming soon to a ballot near you.