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Panel OKs $125,000 for state’s GMO task force

A key legislative committee has approved $125,000 in funding for a task force to advise lawmakers on issues related to genetically modified organisms.

Funding for a task force that will advise the Oregon legislature on biotech crops has been approved by a key legislative committee.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s request for $125,000 was recently backed by a subcommittee of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

The subcommittee’s Feb. 13 recommendation means the funding will be included in a broader budget bill during the 2014 legislative session.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber vowed to form the task force last year, when the legislature passed a bill that pre-empted the regulation of biotech crops by local governments.

The task force will issue a report on consumer choice and coexistence among producers of genetically engineered, organic and conventional crops.

The 14-member committee will be headed by Dan Arp, Oregon State University’s dean of agricultural sciences, and Jennifer Allen, director of Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions.

Other members of the task force, who will represent a wide array of consumer and agricultural interests, will be announced later in February, said Richard Whitman, the governor’s natural resources adviser.

Rather than issue recommendations, the task force’s report will be intended to inform the legislature’s policy decisions during the 2015 session, said Whitman.

“The likelihood of reaching a consensus recommendation on any of these issues is not very good,” he said during a recent hearing.

The goal will be to provide a neutral forum to flesh out GMO issues, Whitman said.

Its findings won’t have any bearing on possible ballot initiatives that call for mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms in food, he said.

Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, said that is difficult to find agreement on such a contentious issue, but the task force report will be “worth it” if it brings credibility to the debate.

The $125,000 would be appropriated to ODA but used by PSU’s Oregon Consensus Program to facilitate the task force, which is expected to hold seven to 10 meetings this year.

Click here for the original article published in the Capital Press.