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GMO-free supporters to celebrate

On Friday, Josephine County will become one of only nine GMO-free zones in the United States.

That's a huge deal say backers of the movement that resulted in a May 2014 vote to ban genetically modified crops. Farmers growing GMOs were given a year-long grace period, which is officially over Friday.

A celebration is planned for 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at the parking lot at the corner of Fifth and H streets in downtown Grants Pass.

"This is going to be a really fun, community celebration, and the public is welcome," said Mary Middleton, one of the founders of GMO-Free Josephine County.

People are urged to bring boards or T-shirts to decorate into signs saying "GMO-Free Zone" at the celebration. There will also be live music and activities for children.

Middleton said that with Josephine and Jackson counties both voting for GMO bans in 2014, "We're certainly the largest GMO-free zone in the Pacific Northwest."

On July 31, the county published a legal notice that farmers growing GMO crops could be penalized after Sept. 4. The notice stated that farmers currently growing GMO crops must contact the Josephine County Sheriff's Office with their name, crop location and crop type, plus a phase-out plan to be completed by Sept. 4.

Anyone violating the ban could be subject to having their crops confiscated and destroyed, and would have to pay costs of the abatement and costs for any damage done to other crops, according to the new ordinance. Commissioners a few weeks ago approved publication of the notice.

Christine Perala Gardiner of Siskiyou Alpaca in the Cave Junction area praised the county GMO policy and said agricultural history is being made here.

"We stood up and voted to protect small family farms, literally as American as apple pie," Gardiner said in a written statement. "This means that all farmers who grow food crops in Josephine and Jackson County can market their produce with the words 'GMO-free.'

"In a world drenched with GMO foods on every aisle, that cachet already means a lot. … Congratulations Josephine and Jackson counties, for providing leadership at a world scale."

Reach reporter Jeff Duewel at 541-474-3720 or jduewel@thedailycourier.com