Overheard from an Oregon legislator as he exited a committee meeting at the Capitol: “Are we regulating religion or agriculture?”

That’s a good question, and it has probably crossed the minds of many Oregon legislators as they continue to be approached by skeptics who want to ban genetically engineered crops or to label food made from them.

Oregon State University Professor Steven Strauss spoke about the global pressures on genetic engineering to a Columbia Forum audience last Tuesday in Astoria. As Edward Stratton reported, Strauss said there is no scientifc evidence that genetically altered organisms have affected the health of humans. He also noted that all prescription drugs are the product of genetic engineering.

When asked to back up their arguments with facts, skeptics follow the “precautionary principle,” which says if something can’t be proven to be safe, then it isn’t. Such principles are fine as a personal choice, but as public policy are narrow and unworkable.

To many of the opponents of genetically modified food, it boils down to a matter of faith that their feelings are correct.

Not too many years ago, the drumbeat was for legislators to make science-based decisions. But a big problem arose when those science-based decisions failed to align with the deeply held feelings of partisans who believe, facts aside, that genetically modified crops and the food made from them are bad.

Some opponents of genetically modified crops just don’t like Monsanto, a company that has pioneered genetically modified crops and has been successful because of it. That some folks don’t like a company is up to them, but to try to convince legislators to adopt public policy largely based on those feelings is illogical.

For years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been dragged into court by those who oppose the deregulation of genetically modified crops. Not once has the argument been based on a public health concern.

In fact, the scientific evidence is quite the opposite. No peer-reviewed studies show health-related problems with genetically modified food.

We support all agriculture. We support organic agriculture, just as we support conventional agriculture and the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

All types of agriculture can and should co-exist. Farmers should have the right to choose which crops they grow without interference from the government. But they should also act responsibly when a neighbor brings up a legitimate concern such as cross-pollination.

We’d like to say that the issue begins and ends in the U.S. and our wants. But it doesn’t. It really comes down to enabling agriculture to continue to feed a growing world population.

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