Supporters of a May ballot measure banning the growing of genetically modified organisms in Jackson County are calling on county officials to retract statements that enforcing the measure could be expensive.
Organic farmers and others against GMOs flocked to a Jackson County commissioners meeting on Wednesday to seek the retraction and ask commissioners to disclose any contacts with groups fighting the measure.
Last week, County Administrator Danny Jordan outlined enforcement costs that could range from no money to more than $2 million to remove topsoil from a single 20-acre parcel contaminated with a GMO crop, dump it in a landfill and buy new topsoil.
Microbiologist Ray Seidler, formerly a scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, said topsoil removal is typically used only to deal with severe toxic spills, not to deal with leftover roots and seeds from a GMO crop.
Jordan said enforcement might require a full-time code inspector, a hearings officer's time, a contractor for testing, department overhead, materials, training and other staff time that would run about $219,000 year.
Supporters of the measure to ban GMOs said the county might incur no costs if farmers growing GMO crops complied by not planting new GMO crops after the measure's passage. They said the county is also under no legal obligation to enforce the measure.
Commissioner Don Skundrick said the county would incur no costs if people stopped growing GMO crops and if it received no complaints about violators. He said enforcement of the measure would be complaint-driven, and the county has an obligation to check out complaints.
Skundrick said commissioners will discuss whether they want to respond to requests that the county retract the cost estimates. He pointed out Jordan said enforcement costs might be nothing, but people fixated on the highest estimate.
"I did, in fact, state multiple times that this could cost zero dollars," Jordan said.
In response to requests that they disclose contacts on the GMO issue, commissioners said they have heard from both opponents and proponents of the GMO ban, but have heard more often from those who support the ban.
Supporters of the ban told commissioners GMO crops are already costing organic and conventional farmers money.
Organic crops are not allowed to be genetically modified.
Many countries ban imports of GMO crops, which could put Oregon exports at risk, they said.
In 2013, Japan and South Korea temporarily banned American wheat purchases and the European Union urged increased testing after a strain of genetically engineered wheat was found growing in an Oregon field. The strain was developed by Monsanto to resist its Roundup herbicide, The New York Times reported.
Jared Walters. operations manager for a large, non-organic local farm, said he lost a quarter-million dollars from a wheat ban.
"I had to plow it under and I lost a lot of money," he said, adding that he supports the measure banning GMO crops.
Steve Fry of Fry Family Farm said his organic operation uses multiple pieces of local property and has to contend with nearby GMO crops. He estimated his losses at thousands of dollars each year.
Fry said GMO sugar beets can contaminate his chard crops. As one example, he had planned to grow a crop for seed production but then a neighboring farmer planted GMO sugar beets.
"It's an economic hardship for seed growers," Fry said.
Supporters of the GMO ban said pollen from GMO crops can drift on the wind and contaminate organic and conventionally grown crops.