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Will Oregon Protect Monsanto?

There’s a “Monsanto protection act” in the Oregon Legislature, and opponents say that due to its vague language its repercussions could affect not only seed growers but also city and county governments managing vegetation. SB 633 passed out of the Oregon Senate May 1 on a 17-12 vote. Sen. Floyd Prozanski and Chris Edwards voted against it.

SB 633 appears to be in response to local efforts to protect farmers and consumers from genetically modified (GM) foods. Kai Huschke of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) says it’s “quite likely that the move by the agribusiness boys was to sharpen up the preemptive law in response to the ballot qualification in Jackson County and the rights-based effort in Benton. It’s usually what they do.” 

Efforts in Jackson County have led to a measure on the ballot for May 2014 that will let voters decide if they want to ban GM crops in the county, and people in Benton County have been working on a community rights initiative to protect the heritage and vegetable seed industry there. GMO Free Oregon has discussed putting forth a similar measure in Lane County. CELDF gives advice and training on these efforts.

Melissa Wischerath and Mary Beth Williams of the newly formed, Eugene-based Center for Sustainability Law are concerned about SB 633. Wischerath says the bill is based on corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) proposed legislation from 2007.

Williams says a Monsanto attorney came to Oregon to testify for the bill. She says that the vague language in the bill that calls for regulation of seeds and “products of agricultural seed, flower seed, nursery seed and vegetable seed” to be done by the state could lead to local governments not being able to do simple things like dealing with invasive species and could ban county-funded local food initiatives. Other ALEC pro-GM crop bills do not have the language “products of agricultural seed” in it, she says, and that “products” could mean anything from canola oil to flour.

Williams says having a state permitting system for genetically modified organisms would actually be a good thing since the federal regulations for GM foods are so weak, but SB 633 simply “creates a mess.”

There will be a March Against Monsanto at 11 am Saturday, May 25, starting at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza. A Facebook event giving the details can be found at http://wkly.ws/1g9