One surprise out of Oregon’s negotiations for a legislative special session was the inclusion of a bill to prevent local governments from regulating genetically modified plants.
It seemed a bargaining chip out of place in a debate over state pensions, taxes and school funding. But it is a concept that deserves support.
In the last legislative session, a similar bill, Senate Bill 633, passed the Senate and died in the House. It was, in part, a reaction to a proposal in Jackson County to regulate genetically modified plants. But it is also a question about where the power of regulation should be.
We don’t know what the new bill will say. We read in The Oregonian that a new version of the bill would exempt Jackson County because voters there are already scheduled to vote on a local ballot measure next year.
Some people are concerned about genetically modified plants. They worry about what it means for their food, for use of pesticides and for the creation of super weeds. There is concern it could lead to contamination of organic plants and more control of seeds by agricultural companies. And you don’t have to search long or hard to find more concerns.
Genetically modified foods could also make it cheaper to produce more food that could be more nutritious and taste better. For instance, rice is a staple crop for much of the world’s population. Millions of people also have vitamin A deficiencies. One reason is they don’t have access to enough variety of food. One solution some development agencies are working on, particularly for the Philippines and Bangladesh, is developing what’s called golden rice, which is genetically modified to contain vitamin A. There are, of course, other examples that have more direct impact on Oregonians.
Presumably, the bill in the special session will stick to the issue of reserving seed regulation to the state. The FDA already regulates foods from genetically modified plants. Preventing local governments from coming up with their own regulations does mean regulation would be more centralized. That doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of regulation would be better or worse. But it is more clear that a patchwork of regulation varying from county to county in Oregon could be an ever-changing mess for farmers.