GMO campaigns are delicate. Protesters and campaigners against GMOs are usually passionate, loud and not always presenting the most trust-inducing image for observers, becoming sitting ducks for labels like “conspiracy theorists”, “anti-establishment” or just “a waste of everyone’s time”.
There’s also usually the call for a ban on GMOs which tends to stir up arguments like: “GMOs are the only way we can grow enough food for our exploding population” or “GMOs will make better-tasting, more nutritious food for us all”.
Staying in Southern Oregon for a while, I have had the pleasure to watch a very different campaign unfold. One which plays by accepted rules, puts forward only proven facts and gives a completely positive spin to the whole argument.
Bring in Our Family Farms Coalition, an organisation formed entirely by farmers in Rogue Valley, Jackson County, with one simple, positive, clear message : Protect Family Farms.
And how, one would question, does this feature in a GMO campaign? Well you see Rogue Valley farmers were seeing their ways of farming threatened by the presence of genetically modified crops in the valley. Due to the way big chemical companies like Monsanto and Syngenta do business(although their websites suggest they are actually saving the world, one GM crop at a time), living merrily alongside a farm growing GM crops is not possible for non-GMO growers and thus farmers are calling for a ban on GMOs in Jackson County. These are the arguments they put forward:
Cross-contamination: Organic or even just conventional non-GMO farming is not possible in the vicinity of GMO farms due to the constant danger of cross-contamination by genetically engineered crops that are patented and controlled by large out-of-state chemical corporations. There’s no practical way to stop genetically engineered pollen and seed from trespassing onto traditional farms that have been here for years. And when a traditional crop becomes contaminated with genetically engineered pollen, it can be impossible for the farmer to sell as was the case for an Oregon farmer whose wheat crop was refused by the Asian market last year. The danger of cross contamination also undermines farmers’ ability to keep and sell seed.
Lawsuits: When contamination does occur, farmers are at risk for being sued for patent infringements. Essentially, crop contaminated by patented genetically engineered pollen and seed would be an infringement of the patent, and yes, farmers have been sued for this by chemical companies.
Water: Genetically engineered crops have led to an increase in overall pesticide use, by 404 million pounds from the time they were introduced in 1996 through 2011 and the evolution of high-impact superweeds. Pesticides contaminate water which is used for drinking, putting chemicals where they are not welcome or safe.
After two years’ preparation, Our Family Farms Coalition has put forward measure 15-119 and are asking the population of Jackson County to vote YES. They ask for protection, for having the farmers’ back, for protecting their livelihood and in turn everyone’s right to clean drinking water and local non-GM crops.
Ballots for the measure to protect Jackson County family farms by banning the cultivation of GMOs in the area are out and the battle is still on. The opposition has raised over 1 million dollars to stop the measure, a sign of how serious these companies are about protecting their business.
My sincere hopes are with this campaign succeeding and becoming a template for other regions wishing to protect themselves from GMOs, not because GMOs are inherently evil but because the companies putting them forward are interested in making farmers reliant on their seed which grows well only in the presence of their pesticides and fertilisers, creating endless demand for their products with no care for how this affects people’s livelihoods and the health of humans and ecosystems.
Good luck Our Family Farms Coalition, may the Force by entirely with you in this David and Goliath challenge you are taking on so beautifully 🙂