Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Oily Process: Canola Needs Closer Look

The Willamette River, from its headwaters in the Calapooya Mountains outside of Eugene to its confluence with the Columbia north of Portland, forms the base of a long narrow valley that not only contains 70% of the state's population, it's also Oregon's most fertile agricultural area. Averaging only 25 miles wide, the valley's rich volcanic and glacial soil was deposited here by ancient Ice Age flooding and can be half a mile deep in some areas.

Orchards, vineyards and farmland vie with urban areas for space in its narrow confines, and some crops have been tightly controlled to prevent problems with cross-pollination from the distribution of pollen by the wind, water and dust churned up by traffic along its length. Canola, also known as rapeseed, has been one of those controlled crops and has been regulated in Oregon since 1990.

Because it is a member of the Brassica family (Brassica napus, B. rapa and B. juncea), it can cross-pollinate with with similar brassicas like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and turnips, endangering these valley crops and the farmers who depend on them for their livelihoods. With the bulk of the domestic canola crop also contaminated with GMOs (approx. 93%), this presents a particular threat to organic farmers and seed producers, since current USDA Organic guidelines do not allow for genetically engineered material.

Recently, the USDA deregulated canola production, a move that was pushed by large agribusiness concerns like Monsanto. This prompted the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) to reevaluate its canola regulations, and on Aug. 3, 2012, it issued a temporary ruling to allow planting of the crop in certain formerly protected areas. This decision was made after a working group hit a deadlock regarding the boundaries of where canola can be planted in various protected agricultural areas of Oregon.

By taking the decision in-house, the ODA has circumvented regulations requiring input from the public and the agricultural community. The new rule is set to take place this Friday, Aug. 10, though no justification has been made as to why the rule has to be rushed into implementation.

A stakeholder letter signed by Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon Clover Commission, Wild Garden Seeds, Fresh Market Growers Association, Oregonians for Farm & Food Rights, National Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Greenwillow Grains, and Adaptive Seeds asks the public to sign a petition asking Katy Coba, Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Governor John Kitzhaber to halt the temporary ruling process.

Other actions include:
Read the other posts in this series, Canola Controversy Heats Up, More on Canola: Stakeholders File Suit, A Voice from the Field, Despite Decision, It's Not Over, ODA Caves to Canola, Write Right Now, Seeding Change and Legislature Passes Ban.

Photo of canola field in Boardman by Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives, via Wikimedia Commons. Canola blossom by Canada Hky (own work), via Wikimedia Commons.


Trainer, Crafter, Kristin said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Kathleen. I knew there were issues with canola, but this really drives it home.

Kathleen Bauer said...

I figured if it was news to me, it'd be news to others, and certainly worth voicing concern over if you're so moved. I was!