by Sen. Doug Whitsett
A great deal of media talk is concentrated on genetically modified plant and animal food products. The public is subjected to virtually daily alarmist claims that allege dangerous issues regarding GMO food safety, decreased nutritional value and claims of harm to organically grown crops.
According to Gregory Conko, Executive Director for the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a food safety expert, genetic engineering is not something that is actually found in food. Instead, GMO encompasses a variety of scientific processes. They are tools that enable growers to enhance food production by improving crop yield and enabling more efficient and less costly farming practices. For instance, the use of GMO crops helps to minimize the use of herbicides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers.
Last year, Washington voters wisely rejected Initiative 522 that would have required the mandatory labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms in their state. California voters defeated a similar ballot initiative the previous year.
Last fall, the Oregon Legislature, in Special Session, reserved the exclusive regulatory power over cultivating GMO crops to the state. Senate Bill 863 preempted all but one local governments from regulating GMO crops. An Initiative Petition to ban GMO crops was already being circulated in Jackson County.
The proposed ordinance would permanently “make it unlawful for any person to propagate, cultivate, raise, or grow genetically engineered plants in Jackson County”. The expressed and obvious purpose is “protecting the economic welfare of organic farmers”.
The ordinance proposed by Measure 15-119 also requires all “existing genetically engineered plants must be harvested, destroyed or removed from Jackson County within 12 months”. It provides that “any person or group of private persons, shall have the authority to enforce this Ordinance through an action brought in a court of competent jurisdiction”.
The Ordinance further provides for county funded code enforcement on private property with a valid search warrant. It includes the power to trespass on private property “for abatement procedures”, to levy fines and to create liens on real property for non-compliance. The Ordinance appears to have no process for the judicial review of final decisions by a hearings officer.
The Washington State Academy of Sciences was created by Washington’s Legislature to be its non-partisan referee of scientific integrity. The Academy was tasked with employing the best available science to determine the validity of a number of claims regarding GMO crops.
The Academy found that genetically modified plants and animals are not new, are substantially no different than non-modified plants and animals, and are ubiquitous.
The Academy determined that GMO organisms have been commercially produced for more than 30 years. In 2012, more than 425 million acres of GMO crops were produced worldwide. Ninety percent of all corn and soybeans grown in the United States are now GMO. Seventy percent of all processed foods produced in the United States now contain GMO ingredients. The large scale production of genetically modified plants and animals is now required to feed the world’s population.
The World Health Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization have all determined that GMO produced plants and animals have the same nutritional qualities as non-modified plants and animals. These findings belie the claims that GMO foods are inferior to, or even differ from, organically grown foods in nutritional values.
The Academy determined that there is no statistically significant evidence of any adverse human health consequences due to GMO products. The study concluded that there is no evidence genetically modified foods have negative human health consequences. Their finding disproves any claim that GMO foods are less safe compared with foods with non-GMO ingredients.
The Academy found that mandatory labeling of GMO products would negatively affect trade and commerce. Further, it would impose higher costs on all firms that produce and sell both GMO and non-GMO food products.
The banning of GMO products in Jackson County can likewise be expected to significantly restrict trade and impose substantially higher costs. The increased costs will be borne by firms and consumers for both conventional and organically grown food products. The costs for monitoring crop production and certification compliance to ensure GMO free produce will be the responsibility of all producers.
The greatest expenses will likely be borne by non-organic growers. Those costs will include reduced crop yield and production efficiency as well as charges to certify that their crops have no GMO component in violation of the county ordinance. Those increased food production costs will certainly be passed on to the consuming public.
Organically produced and “GMO free” food products are significantly more expensive to produce than conventional products. They are consistently more expensive for the consumer to purchase, even though a compelling body of evidence proves they have no measurable advantage in either nutritional value or food safety.
In our free market economy, self-designated growers are definitely entitled to produce all of the “organic” products they can sell. Self-selected consumers certainly have the right to purchase organically grown products whenever that is their desire.
However, in my opinion, their rights do not extend to artificially driving up the price of food products for the majority of consumers who want to purchase less expensive equally nutritious and safe non-organic products.
Measure 15-119 should be rejected because it will artificially increase both the cost of production and the retail cost of food products. It should be rejected because it serves to unfairly penalize non-organic growers for producing safe, nutritious and affordable food products. It should be rejected because it represents an affront to our free market economy.
Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls