Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber convened a panel of regional experts Thursday on issues of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
At Oregon State University's Food Innovations Center in downtown Portland, Kitzhaber spoke on the importance of debating the role of GMOs in the state.
“It’s an area that affects our economic future. It’s an area that obviously has environmental overtones,” Kitzhaber said. “And so I think it’s important that we have a thoughtful, fact-based path forward rather than simply standing on either side of the street and throwing bricks at each other.”
The panel’s work comes at an important time regionally and nationally.
Voters in Jackson and Josephine counties are considering May ballot measures that would ban genetically modified crops. The Oregon Legislature passed a bill preventing such restrictions in other parts of the state. Additionally, Josephine County's potential GMO-ban is contingent upon the state restriction being repealed.
Washington State voters turned down a GMO labeling measure in November; California voters did the same in 2012.
This week, a Republican congressman from Kansas also introduced a federal bill that would prevent requirements for food labels to disclose GMO information.
Dean Arp, dean of the college of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University, is co-convener of the Oregon's GMO panel. Arp said the panel aims to explore and debate GMOs and their use in the state, including growing and labeling.
“If we can help frame those issues, then it gives policymakers something to work with,” Arp said.
Jennifer Allen, director of Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solution, rounds out the panel’s leadership.
“The purpose of the task force is to gather information to paint as comprehensive a picture as we can related to issues of genetic engineering,” Allen said.
The governor told the panel he expects their work to inform state legislation on genetically modified foods in 2015.
“I like to think Oregon is a place that leads and doesn’t follow on this topic,” Kitzhaber said.