PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Residents in a southwest Oregon county voted emphatically to ban genetically engineered crops following a campaign that attracted a bushel of out-of-state money.
With most of the ballots counted in Tuesday's all-mail election, Jackson County voters approved the measure by a 2-to-1 margin. A similar, lower-profile measure in neighboring Josephine County led 58 percent to 42 percent with nearly two-thirds of expected ballots counted.
Though it's a local issue, the Jackson County measure attracted national interest. A pair of competing campaigns raised $1.3 million to sway the county's 120,000 registered voters. Nearly $1 million of that money was raised to defeat the proposed ban.
"The voters here have many generations of fruit and vegetable growing, so they're among the most educated voters," said Chuck Burr, president of the Southern Oregon Seed Growers Association. "The opposition spent a million dollars and couldn't convince the people."
The outcome, however, won't start an immediate trend in Oregon because Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill last fall that prohibits local governments from regulating genetically engineered crops. An exception was made for Jackson County because its measure had already qualified for the ballot.
Despite the bill, opponents of GMOs in Josephine County went ahead with their own measure, saying they'll let the courts decide if the vote is valid.
Since 2004, counties in California, Hawaii and Washington state have adopted bans. In 2012, agribusiness groups defeated ballot measures in California and Washington state to require statewide GMO food labeling.
Those who opposed local government action in Oregon said rules regarding genetically modified crops should be enacted at the state or federal level, not through a patchwork of county ordinances.
Though he signed the bill, Kitzhaber directed the Oregon Department of Agriculture to map where genetically engineered and non-genetically engineered crops are grown. Moreover, he asked the department to submit a state action plan for regulating genetically engineered crops, and created a task force that will examine conflicts between growers of genetically engineered products and other producers, including organic growers.
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