Efforts in Oregon to protect small farmers and organic growers are coming from the ground up at the county and state level these days. An initiative to ban genetically modified (GM) crops in Lane County has been resubmitted to the county clerk, and small farmers came out ahead in the Oregon Legislature this session.
“By and large [the Oregon Legislature] did a very good job standing up for family farm values this legislative session,” says Ivan Maluski, the policy director of advocacy group Friends of Family Farmers (FFF). Among the changes was the creation of Aggie Bonds (small farmer and rancher loans) under the Oregon Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program established in HB 2700 and a ban on commercial canola production inside the Willamette Valley protected district established in HB 2427.
Opponents of genetically modified (GM) crops and of canola in Oregon are primarily concerned with increased pesticide use and unwanted cross-pollination ruining local organic crops and also with GM crops causing unintentional patent infringement and having possible negative health effects.
The biggest threat to the efforts to create bans on GM crops in Lane, Benton and Jackson counties died this session. SB 633, which would have shifted regulation of seeds from the hands of local governments to the hands of the state government, died in the House on July 8. Pro-pesticide group Oregonians for Food and Shelter (OFS) was a primary supporter of SB 633.
In response to the GM ban initiatives, Scott Dahlman, executive director of OFS, says, “Efforts by local activists seek to undermine farmers’ right to decide for themselves how they farm and what they grow. Many farmers already cooperate with neighbors toward their common success.”
Lane County’s ban initiative, like Benton’s, was said to not comply with the single-subject rule for petitions, but Ann Kneeland, a lawyer with Support Local Food Rights, says, “Chief petitioners from both counties have worked to carefully craft the initiative to comply with the single-subject rule.” The petition in Jackson County was accepted to the ballot as a full ban on any genetically modified food.
According to Kneeland, the county identified four subjects: the rights of natural community, the right to self-government, the provisions of corporate rights and seed patents. “But Kneeland says, "All of those essential components of our local economy stand to gain from this initiative." A petition to reconsider the rejection of the initiative was filed on July 15, but Kneeland says a decision won’t be made on the initiative until September.
This story has been updated.