By Cassandra Profita, OPB
Groups across Oregon are working to ban genetically modified crops at the county level through initiative petitions. Many of these groups are using a legal strategy that has helped communities across the country fight against fracking for natural gas.
A vote on banning genetically modified crops is already scheduled to appear on the 2014 ballot in Jackson County. And activists in other counties including Lane, Benton and Josephine counties are looking at similar action.
But Oregon has a “right to farm” law that prevents local governments from infringing on farm practices.
The initiatives proposed in Lane and Benton counties are written to challenge that law by giving local governments more power. It’s a strategy that has worked in other counties across the country with help from a group called the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.
Defense Fund organizer Kai Huschke says his group has successfully challenged large corporate projects by designing local laws to block them. He is working with groups in Lane, Benton and Josephine counties to apply that strategy to genetically modified crops.
Huschke said, “The commonality between those who are looking to protect their food is no different from those who are being hit over the head with fracking or factory farms. They all run into that structure of law that tells them they have no rights to decide what happens in their own community.”
But the local efforts in Oregon are already facing opposition from a bill in the state Legislature. The bill, backed by the farm advocacy group Oregonians for Food and Shelter, was designed to prevent local governments from regulating agricultural seeds. The Senate passed the bill but it never came up for a vote in the House.
Scott Dahlman is the executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter. He says his group has members who grow genetically modified crops, and their businesses will be hurt if county ballot initiatives go through.
Dahlman explained, “We’re very disappointed because we’re setting up a potential where we’re having a patchwork of regulations for farmers across Oregon depending on what county they happen to live in.”
Dahlman says his group will be fighting the initiatives at the county level but will also continue to work on a statewide bill that would prevent local regulation of seeds.