OSU wary about Benton Co. GMO ban

Granting plants legal rights could stunt important research, university officials say.

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A proposed ban on genetically-modified crops in Benton County is causing consternation at Oregon State University.

Granting plants legal rights could stunt important research, officials say, according to the Corvallis Gazette-Times.

Before any of [forestry professor Steven] Strauss’ experimental trees can be tested in the field, he has to get approval from the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which requires a lengthy application that must include detailed plans for preventing genetic drift. But if a ballot measure on the May 19 ballot passes, Strauss fears he’ll never get the chance to field-test the new self-limiting trait — and that he’ll also have to tear out all of his existing test plots, representing decades’ worth of research.

Proponents of Measure 2-89, also known as the Benton County Local Food System Ordinance, insist the measure would nothing of the kind. All they’re trying to do, they say, is to protect organic and traditional farmers from having their crops contaminated by genetically modified organisms and to keep the corporations behind GMO seeds from taking over the county’s agricultural base. But OSU officials point to Section 3(b) of the ordinance, which states: “It shall be unlawful for any corporation or governmental entity to engage in the use of genetically engineered organisms within Benton County.”

A university spokesman said the measure would stifle research.

From the Associated Press:

Private biotech firms operating in Benton County have also expressed concern about the measure. Siga Technologies, which has a $433 million contract to provide anti-smallpox drugs to the Strategic National Stockpile, uses genetic engineering to develop drugs. Philomath-based company Gene Tools is working on a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. In an email to the newspaper, the company’s CEO Jim Summerton said the measure could spell a major setback for researchers like him.

“We are now experiencing a quantum leap in humanity’s ability to improve the properties of plants and animals,” Summerton said, “except perhaps in Benton County if our local Luddites (anti-technology folks) succeed in getting voters to pass Measure 2-89.”

There is a chance the measure could pass without much impact as the Oregon Legislature passed a law in 2013 that prevents local governments from banning GMOs.


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