GMO Food

Anti-GMO Bills Fail in Oregon

This failure in such a blue state shows the limits of the anti-GMO movement.


Stop GMO sign
LloydTheVoid / Pixabay

The anti-GMO movement has taken a beating in Oregon, of all places, when the legislature there killed two bills that would have limited the use of genetically modified crops in the state.

In a state that has nurtured the movement against science in agriculture, government overreach is responsible for the Senate agricultural committee killing SB 1037, which would have allowed Oregon's counties to pass local bans on the use of genetically modified crops. A House companion bill met a similar fate back in March.

The Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) came out strongly against the bill saying, "counties have neither the technical expertise nor the ability" to enforce GMO regulations, and that a state solution was preferred.

Barry Bushue, President of the Oregon Farm Bureau, told Reason that "Oregon folks have always been more liberal, but still also hostile to government overreach." And having local governments determine which legal crops farmers are allowed to plant he said definitely counted as government overreach.

The failure of the bills is a rare defeat for the anti-GMO movement in Oregon, a haven for organic farmers and agricultural activists. SB 1037 failed despite the sponsorship of 14 state legislators and all that political activism.

Portland—the state's biggest city—is famous for its long-running (and decidedly long-winded) defense of everything "natural", giving the city not just non-fluoridated water and vegan strip clubs, but also a heavy skepticism of GM foodstuffs.

Also skeptical of GMOs are more conservative rural Oregonians—many of whom are organic farmers in their own right—who see an economic as well as environmental threat from genetically modified crops.

Indeed, the largely rural and agricultural Jackson and Josephine counties became two of the few localities in the nation to prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified crops, when they passed anti-GMO labelling initiatives back in 2014.

Just as Jackson and Josephine County initiative campaigns were beginning to gain traction, the Oregon legislature passed a state level pre-emption of local GMO regulation. The 2013 law excluded the Jackson County GMO ban as it had already qualified for the ballot by the time the law was drafted, but did prevent the implementation of Josephine County's ban which passed in 2014 with 58 percent of the vote.

Proponents of lifting the state-level preemption on local GMO bans have cast the issue as one of local control. Amy Van Saun—a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety— told Reason "there's an interest definitely for people to try and protect their county."

"We have one seed sanctuary," she, referring to Josephine County, "but even though voters voted for it, we can't enforce this."

Undercutting Van Saun's argument for county control has come from the counties themselves. And it hasn't been helped a rather ambivalent attitude of many in the one county where a GMO ban remains in effect.

Jackson County Farm Bureau President Ron Bjork told The Fence Post in 2016, "We don't grow many GMO crops here. So we haven't really felt much of an impact from the ban. There isn't a lot of regulation or enforcement of the law either, and you can't tell if alfalfa is GMO or not without testing it, so nothing has really changed."

Given the awkward divide in American agriculture between counties where GMO crops are crucial, and counties where they are almost irrelevant, local bans have been slow to materialize.

Van Saun's organization helps write these types of restrictions. She Reason that there are about 100 state and local level ordinances that touch on GMOs, but she is only aware of several counties in California that have standing bans.

Some six counties in California have passed local bans of GMO cultivation, as has one in Washington state.

The island of Maui in Hawaii also had a GMO cultivation ban on the books, but it was struck down by the 9th circuit court as a violation of state law.

And so far the bans that have stuck have been largely symbolic.

Renee Pinel, president and CEO of Western Plant Health Association, said in a 2016 interview of California's bans, "Any county GMO ban that has been passed has only been passed in non-agricultural counties, or in counties where there are no GMO trait crops grown."

So while there is general opposition to GMO crops in more liberal states, outright bans will likely be exercises in political theater rather than substantive agricultural policy change.

Anything more requires state and local governments to impose heavy costs on their farmers, something they have so far proven reluctant to do.

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  1. …Oregon folks have always been more liberal, but still also hostile to government overreach.


    1. Oregon also has a lot of farmers who don’t want to give up earnings from GMO crops. What’s a politician to do?

  2. Why don’t they just slap a 40% tax on all food. It would have the same effect.

    1. How about a 40% tax on stupidity?

  3. Well this is surprising and good, considering Oregon is full of people who think fluoridated water gives you cancer.

    1. And you’re assuming they’re wrong?

  4. “We have one seed sanctuary” she said, referring to Josephine County

    Seems to me, anything i would refer to as a seed sanctuary would be capable of preventing the intrusion of unwelcome genetic material, like a building of some sort. As opposed to a vast expanse of earth open to the air.

  5. Ah, the left. They panic and say ‘the world will starve, we must find a way to feed us all!’

    Scientists figure out a way to do exactly that, and the left collectively forgets about the starving people and panics over a more advanced method of doing the same thing mankind has been doing for at least 10,000 years.

    Fortunately, as the author notes, most of the left isn’t that retarded.

    It does make one wonder if, should some technology manage to stem CO2 emissions from mankind, if they’ll suddenly have a problem with the solution to that as well. My opinion is that no actual ‘solution’ to their supposed problems will ever be accepted. That would mean that the lobby group that’s been panic-mongering would suddenly be out of business, and that can’t be allowed to happen. These types of groups are who lead the left around by the nose it seems, much like how the right is continually kept in a frothy state with nonsense like ‘the war on Christmas’.

    1. You don’t need to wonder! It’s called nuclear fucking energy, and the Luddite environmentalists have been leading an anti-science fear-mongering crusade against it for 50 years.

      1. Fair enough, and a good example. Decommissioning nuclear plants and switching to wind power is pretty ludicrous and solar is a non-starter due to the necessary acreage to generate meaningful power. ‘Renewable’ is a misnomer anyway for solar since you still need to mine for the materials to make the units themselves.

        Not to say that science can’t solve the intermittency problems for both, but the overall generation capacity has a hard limit and it’s simply not enough. Even tiny countries have issues using ‘renewable’ generation except, perhaps, for tiny islands who have year-round wind and sun. I shudder to think what will happen when a major storm system hits one of those fans though.

        1. There’s plenty of land for solar. Something like a 100km by 100km section is all that you need. Storage is the problem and is no where near a solution. To your earlier point, greenpeace has actually come out against fusion. That tells you all you need to know about how much they fucking love science.

          1. A 100km x 100km section of land is massive, and is the claim that this would be enough power for the whole U.S. on a daily basis? Genuinely curious on the second point. I get where you’re coming from on storage as well, although I would think transmission would also be a problem unless this land isn’t centralized in some dead zone like Arizona (which if I recall is where most of the bigger farms are now).

            As far as Green Peace goes, I don’t really give much of a damn about their opinion and fortunately not many people do. They’re about as close to a green terrorist organization as you’ll be likely to find.

            1. Yes that would meet the needs of the entire US, roughly. Generating capacity is about 1TW. Insolation is about 1kW so about 1e9 sq. m at 100% efficiency. Or 1e10 at 10% efficiency. 1e10 sq m = 1e4 sq km or 100km on a side. That’s a minuscule fraction of the US. Even at 1% efficiency you’re only up to 300 by 300.

              But then we come to solar’s fatal flaw, or as most ppl like to call it: bedtime. And none of this addresses the obscene cost of the arrays, storage, and transmission.

          2. If you spread reflective mylar over the same area, you’d get significant cooling and if you put wind turbines around the perimeter you’d probably get a fair amount of energy generation.

            Split the mylar up and spread it over areas of high solar absorption and you’d have an even bigger cooling win.

            I’d nominate draping it over LA, New York, Chicago, etc… It would solve a lot of problems.

            1. It would require hermetic seals to be effective in those regions.

    2. It does make one wonder if, should some technology manage to stem CO2 emissions from mankind, if they’ll suddenly have a problem with the solution to that as well.

      This/they falsely assumes that whatever alternative source of power will magically displace all others. Permanently. Nevermind that if, suddenly, all cars ran on unicorn farts tomorrow pretty much every device that a unicorn wouldnt’ fart in would get converted to gas because you would spend pennies to run it/them for days.

      Also, this is relatively already known. CO2 is generally beneficial to plants, accelerating their growth (all other conditions equal) up to a couple of percent atmospheric composition (~20X where we are now). It’s well known/established biologically that we, the biome, are much closer to CO2 starved (150-200 ppm) than we are to CO2 smothered and that you would start to effectively kill humans directly with CO2 poisoning well before you started to kill off the plant life.

      1. Damned decimal points! 8% CO2 is about where the atmosphere becomes too toxic for anything that we would recognize to survive. At 1% we’d start to lose the ability to grow some familiar fruits and vegetables that we all know and love. For comparison that’s 80,000 and 10,000 ppm respectively. Our 350-to-400 ppm ‘jump’ barely nudges us away from ‘starving’.

        1. We would have to liberate serious amounts of sequestered carbonate to get anywhere near 10000ppm. It would actually take energy to do this.

      2. I’m very much aware of this point and I use it myself quite often in that historical atmospheric CO2 concentrations were far higher than today (to the tune of several thousand PPM more, and this is using the data from the pro-AGW crowd) and that a minimum amount of trace CO2 is required for life to continue (only a few hundred, the number I recall is ~170 PPM).

        You correctly assert that we are far closer to mass extinction levels of CO2 than any theoretical maximum amount though. I’ve long wondered why this fact is conspicuously absent from any mainstream discussion. For all I know there’s a good argument, but I’ve never even heard it addressed before. My guess is it’s just an inconvenient fact.

        1. Because we live on the best possible earth with the best possible atmosphere, dr. Pangloss.

          There is no serious argument for 280ppm. Instead we get stupid handwaving arguments about ocean acidification (zomfg! Wait, aragonite corals evolved when co2 concentrations were 10z what they are now? Nevermind), thermohaline shutdown caused by ocean freshening, and polar bears. Never forget the polars (who happen to be stable or increasing in population).

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