Jackson County, Oregon, has just joined the small but growing ranks of “GE-free zones” in the U.S., which prohibit the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops. It’s at least the eighth county in the country to create such an ordinance, and efforts are springing up to pass similar measures in other places.
The Jackson County designation was made final on Dec. 22, when a federal judge approved a consent decree protecting the zone. The ordinance was originally passed in May 2014 by the voters of Jackson County, but was challenged in court by two GE alfalfa farmers, who argued that it violated Oregon state law. The challenge was rejected by a federal judge in May, and a court-approved settlement — which upholds the GE-free zone, but allows the alfalfa farmers to keep their crop for the remainder of its useful life — was finally approved in December.
Genetic engineering — especially as it relates to the food system — remains a hot-button issue in the U.S., with a primary concern among members of the public being the safety of GE products in terms of their impacts on public health and the environment.
But when it comes to GE-free farming zones, the concern is largely an economic one. The goal of creating the zones, according to proponents, is to protect non-GE crops from contamination with modified product — a risk they argue has become a threat to the livelihood of traditional and organic farmers.