Unintended Consequences for OSU Research

corn fieldby Rachel Sandstrom

Measure 2-89 would apply to all of Benton County, and that includes Oregon State University. As a land grant college and research institution, OSU has a lot at stake. If adopted, this measure would essentially halt much of the research conducted at Oregon State, from agriculture to medical.

The measure bans the planting of genetically modified organisms and calls for the destruction of such materials, likely including materials used for research purposes. If 2-89 applies to research, OSU would be required to destroy research materials that have been used for decades, and the viability of research would be significantly harmed.

Despite numerous rewrites of the measure to prevent research from being affected by the measure, Steve Clark, vice president of University Relations at OSU, and university faculty continue to lack confidence in the scope of the ballot measure—they fear that it “further opens the door to the implication that OSU research is subject to the law.” While the university, as a state-funded institution, cannot express an opinion on any pending legislation, they can analyze the potential effects, which is what Clark and university staff have done.

OSU research is active in many fields, from medical to agricultural, and many projects rely on GMOs. Currently, OSU is developing human disease therapy treatments for ALS. This research also involves ways to treat or prevent some types of cancer. GMOs are utilized fairly extensively in this research, and in the agricultural/horticultural research of filberts (hazelnuts). Researchers are working on preventing the effects of the Eastern filbert blight. Oregon is by far one of the most prolific producers of filberts, and the research being conducted will help to limit the effects of the blight, securing income, jobs, and delicious hazelnuts for a ton of people.

Research is also being conducted to prevent insects that are harmful to crops from reproducing. Instead of killing the insect or pest or spraying produce with harmful pesticides, this research attempts to prevent reproduction of the insects, which is a safer way to cultivate produce and other crops.

In terms of financial impact, more than 120 faculty in multiple colleges would be affected. Research valued at $18.3 million would be stopped and destroyed; 300 to 400 students, both undergraduate and graduate, would be affected in education or research. People would likely lose their jobs, education would be compromised. Researchers may be hired on to new projects, but if their research ends, it could impact their employment in that activity.

More importantly, OSU is in the middle of important research that could help a lot of people. From curing diseases to cultivating better produce and reducing the use of pesticides, OSU is trying to do a lot of good through the use of GMO. In reading Measure 2-89, it does not offer research exemptions, and short of a successful legal challenge, it would almost certainly end this sort of work at the university.