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Pro, con GMO PACs hit $1.2 million in Jackson County election

 Posted: 2:40 PM May 07, 2014

Groups for and against a proposed measure that would ban genetically modified organisms in Jackson County have passed the million dollar mark in campaign fundraising.

On Wednesday, the Oregon Secretary of State's website showed the political action committees involved in the fight over Measure 15-119 had raised more than $1.2 million collectively.

Good Neighbor Farmers, a group against the GMO banning measure, has raised $876,513, with $702,634 in expenditures. Of that amount, $610,625 is from out of state donors, or close to 70 percent of the total funds raised, the site shows. Of the out-of-state amount, $258,294 was donated by Monsanto and Syngenta, international business leaders in the GMO industry.

"It is a lot of money, but I think there is a link between money and support," said Ian Tolleson, spokesman for Good Neighbor Farmers, which opposes the ban. "This is all agriculture looking to Jackson County saying this is not good for agriculture."

The Our Family Farms Coalition, a supporter of the measure, has raised $263,286 with $249,129 in expenditures. The group has also reported $45,313 of in-kind contributions. Their out-of-state donation allotment totals $96,581, or 37 percent of all funds raised.

GMO Free Jackson County has raised $64,228 with $74,598 in expenditures. About 42 percent of their funds have come from out of state, or $26,680.

"I think the sheer number of supporters really gets some attention," said Elise Higley, a farmer and director for the Our Family Farms Coalition. "It's easy for people to see that there's such a vast majority of farmers who are not growing GMOs."

Both sides continue to spread their respective messages. Those for the measure say pollen from GMO fields can blow onto adjacent organic operations, making the organic yields un-sellable and dealing a blow to the local agricultural economy.

"In this area, contamination is inevitable, and we can really state that as a fact," Higley said.

Opponents of the measure say there are ways for organic, conventional and GMO operations to co-exist, and that the measure would impact private property rights and be a potential drain on county funds.

"Telling people what they can and cannot do on their property is a dangerous road to go down," Tolleson said.

The PACs said they are using the funds on TV, radio and print advertising to get their messages out. Both have continued to engage in speaking engagements, including forums and speeches to local groups such as Rotary, granges, farm bureaus and individual citizens.

"We are doing absolutely everything we can to reach as many Jackson County voters as possible," Higley said. "We've really gone everywhere that we possibly can."

Higley noted representatives from GMO Free Jackson County will be at Saturday Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Markets, available to take questions from the public and distribute information.

Tolleson said a large chunk of Good Neighbor Farmers' cash has gone to advertising and informational mailers. He added the final touches on new TV ads were recently completed.

"Those are probably what the majority of the money is being spent on," Tolleson said.

— Ryan Pfeil

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