Others Say -4/19 Opinions differ on GMO canola
Preferable not to regulate genetically modified crops
Overheard from an Oregon legislator as he exited a committee meeting at the Capitol: “Are we regulating religion or agriculture?”
That’s a good question, which has probably crossed the minds of many legislators in Oregon, Washington state, Idaho and elsewhere as they continue to be approached by true believers who want to ban genetically engineered crops or label food made from them.
When asked to back up their arguments with facts, they really don’t say much more than they don’t like genetically modified food and they fear it will do something or other to someone or other. They follow a precautionary principle, which says if something can’t be proven to be safe, then it isn’t. Such principles are fine as a personal choice, but as public policy became narrow and unworkable.
To many of the opponents of genetically modified food, it boils down to a matter of faith that their feelings are correct.
Not too many years ago, the drumbeat was for legislators to make science-based decisions. But a big problem arose when those science-based decisions failed to align with the deeply held feelings of partisans who believe, facts aside, that genetically modified crops and the food made from them are bad.
An undercurrent of the issue is based on other feelings — there’s that word again. Some opponents of genetically modified crops just don’t like Monsanto, a company that has pioneered genetically modified crops and has been successful because of it. That some folks don’t like a company is up to them, but to try to convince legislators to adopt public policy largely based on those feelings is illogical.
For years, USDA has been dragged into court by those who oppose the deregulation of genetically modified crops. Not once has the argument been based on a public health concern, only a legalese-laden argument that the agency did not cross a “t” or dot an “i.”
In fact, the scientific evidence is quite the opposite. No peer-reviewed studies show health-related problems with genetically modified food. None. Zero. Zilch.
Let us be clear. We support all agriculture. We support organic agriculture, just as we support conventional agriculture and the cultivation of genetically modified crops.
Our “feeling” — and the facts support it — is that all types of agriculture can and should be able to coexist. Farmers should have the right to choose which crops they grow without unneeded interference from the government or anywhere else. But they should also act responsibly when a neighbor brings up a legitimate concern such as cross-pollination.
If a problem were to emerge, surely individual farmers have the common sense and ability to work out an equitable solution.
We’d like to say that the issue begins and ends in the U.S. and our wants, but it doesn’t. It really comes down to enabling agriculture to continue to feed a growing world population.
Given the choice between eating and starving, we would just as soon eat, whether the food is genetically modified or not.
— East Oregonian
High risks for organic farmers make full review necessary
Oregon is a world leader in seed production, a high-value agricultural specialty that generates $50 million to $60 million a year. The state would be foolish to jeopardize this industry for the benefit of a single new, low-value crop with a primary market that depends on government subsidies. At a minimum, a full scientific review of the new crop’s potential effects on Oregon’s agricultural diversity is needed.
The new crop is canola — new to Oregon, that is. Canola, also known as rapeseed, has long been grown in the upper Great Plains region. Its seed contains an edible oil that in recent years has become a biofuel feed stock. The emerging, and still subsidized, market for biofuels makes canola potentially attractive to Willamette Valley grass and grain farmers seeking to break pest and disease cycles by planting it as a rotational crop.
One problem with canola is that it’s a prolific pollinator, and also a member of the genus Brassica — the same genus that contains cabbage, mustard, broccoli and a dozen other crops cultivated by Willamette Valley seed farmers. In the seed business, purity is everything — and a seed crop contaminated by canola pollen would be degraded in value.
A second problem is that most canola — 85 percent of the crop in Canada, for example — is genetically modified for resistance to herbicides. Seed crops contaminated by pollen from genetically modified canola could not be sold as organic, and many export markets would be closed altogether. Oregon’s large and diverse organic seed industry regards canola as a fatal threat.
A third problem is that canola is a robust plant. Its value as an oil crop hints at its ability to produce an abundance of seed, some of which remains after harvest. The seed can be transported by birds or farm equipment, resulting in the plant’s spread.
For all these reasons, the state Department of Agriculture banned canola from the Willamette Valley until this year, when it issued a rule allowing the crop to be cultivated outside an exclusion zone. Seed farmers say the new rule leaves their crops vulnerable to contamination and invites the spread of what would amount to an invasive species.
House Bill 2427 would extend the former ban for three years. During that period, Oregon State University would conduct an intensive study of the risks of canola cross-pollination and spread.
HB 2427 is a basic precaution. If canola’s critics are right, allowing the crop in Oregon would be a costly and irreversible mistake. If the crop can be grown in Oregon safely, a thorough assessment of the risks and rewards would create confidence that does not exist today.
— The Register-Guard