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Oregon Scientist at Forefront of GE Seed, Crop Debate

PHOTO: In his presentations about crop science, Ray Seidler shows people two types of corn seed. The yellow seed is conventional; the blue is genetically engineered, and coated with chemical pesticides. Photo courtesy of Seidler.
PHOTO: In his presentations about crop science, Ray Seidler shows people two types of corn seed. The yellow seed is conventional; the blue is genetically engineered, and coated with chemical pesticides. Photo courtesy of Seidler.
October 10, 2014

ASHLAND, Ore. - One Oregon man has a unique perspective on genetically engineered crops and Oregon's November ballot measure to label the products made from them.

As a microbiologist and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) senior scientist, Ray Seidler has been studying genetic engineering in agriculture since the 1980s, and did the first research on the topic for the agency.

Seidler, who says he supports Measure 92, thinks the issue is bigger than labeling. He says many farmers are pressured to purchase seeds and pesticides from chemical companies, and to sign exclusive contracts. He's concerned about the impact on the environment, from butterflies and pollinators to soil and water, as well as the agriculture industry.

"Trying to grow food crops produced by chemical corporations, there are innocent things being killed, farmers are being financially hurt," he says. "It's not an application of a potentially beautiful technology I want to be involved with."

Seidler believes there is a role for genetic engineering, but says he thinks it's been abused.

In recent months, he has been asked to give presentations in four states about his views. He shows people the difference between regular seeds and chemical-coated GE seeds as part of the talks, and says research has shown that not all farmers who use GE seeds improve their yields.

Oregon organic farmers have voiced concerns about cross-pollination from conventional farms using GE seeds. Seidler says that isn't uncommon, and also leads to other problems. He says chemical companies sue farmers who grow plants from their seeds without signing a contract.

"There are economic issues, legal issues, neighbor-to-neighbor issues," he says. "It isn't only the organic farmers that are impacted - it's even the farmers that are trying to produce a crop using conventional farming practices with non-genetically engineered seed."

Proponents of genetically engineered crops say they are hardier and more disease-resistant.

Next week, voting begins in Oregon, including on Measure 92 - to require labeling of genetically modified ingredients in food products sold in the state.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR