The four-person panel at Monday’s Corvallis City Club meeting included one advocate from each side of the campaign and a pair of Oregon State University scientists without ties to either the pro- or anti-Measure 92 camp. Each made a short presentation before the floor was opened to questions from the audience.
Steve Strauss, a distinguished professor of biotechnology at OSU, began the program by saying that several major reports from leading scientific organizations have firmly established the principle that when it comes to food labeling, it’s the product that matters, not the process that created it. In other words, if a genetically modified organism is safe, then the process used to produce that GMO is irrelevant.
Requiring labeling for GMO foods is “fundamentally at odds” with that principle, Strauss said, and could alarm consumers by creating the false impression that genetically modified organisms must be harmful. He also argued that pesticide-resistant GMO crops have helped the environment by reducing the amount of pesticides and tillage needed to grow them.
OSU economist Bill Jaeger said consumers need product information in order to make purchasing decisions that result in efficient allocation of resources and the proper operation of the marketplace, though he added that “sometimes the cost of the information can be higher than the benefits.”
He noted that studies have documented yield improvements in insecticide-resistant crops (with less persuasive evidence of similar gains for herbicide-resistant crops). The economic benefits from GMO corn, soybean and cotton, Jaeger said, amounts to an estimated $30 billion a year.
On the other hand, he said, there can be costs associated with the documented risk of GMO crops escaping into areas where they are not allowed (such as the GMO wheat found last year in Oregon).
Despite the conflicting information, however, Monday’s presentation appears to have helped some people make up their minds on Measure 92. In a straw poll conducted at the beginning of the City Club meeting, 16 people said they would vote for Measure 92, nine said they planned to vote against the labeling measure and 19 said they were undecided.
After the meeting, 17 people said they would vote for 92, 20 said they would vote against it, and only seven remained undecided.
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