Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Your Food, Your Legislature: New Session, New Issues

Your Food, Your Legislature is a series of reports giving Oregon consumers a heads-up on issues before the current session of the legislature that affect the food we are putting on our tables, as well as providing an opportunity to voice your opinion on those issues. Thanks to Ivan Maluski of Friends of Family Farmers for help on details of the pending legislation.

The 2016 Interim Session of the Oregon Legislature was gaveled into operation yesterday morning, and for the next five weeks the Capitol will be buzzing with legislators, lobbyists and staff rushing to get proposed bills onto the floor for a vote. Originally established to deal with budget details that came up between odd-year legislative sessions, these short, interim (even-year) sessions have taken on the look of the look of a normal, if somewhat rushed, regular session.

So far just one proposed bill deals with a (literal) dinner-table issue. I'll keep you updated as the session continues and as other issues arise.

Allows local restrictions on genetically modified (GMO) crops (House Bill 4122).

In 2014 an ordinance was passed by Jackson County voters that "would ban any person from propagating, cultivating, raising or growing 'genetically-engineered' [GE] plants" in the county. In the run-up to that election, with the assumption that the Jackson County anti-GMO ordinance would pass, a special session of the Oregon legislature passed Senate Bill 863—what many opponents called the Monsanto Protection Act—prohibiting any Oregon county except Jackson County from regulating or banning GMOs. The bill was inserted into a so-called "grand bargain" that mainly dealt with tax rates on higher earners and with public employee pension issues, and was included in the package as a deal to get reluctant Republicans to support tax increases on those higher income earners.

Putting the ridiculous notion that one county is allowed to regulate its crops and all others are prohibited from doing exactly that (shades of "Mom always liked you best"), this effort at repealing parts of SB 863 is based on a lack of action on the part of the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) or the legislature to provide Oregon farmers any protections against contamination by genetically engineered or GMO crops at the state level.

After SB 863 passed the legislature, then-Governor John Kitzhaber formed a "GE Task Force" of farmers, GE industry representatives and others who came together in an effort to work out state-level policies and solutions. Unfortunately the industry representatives and organizations like the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregonians for Food and Shelter balked at anything that would have regulated GE crops, and when Gov. Kitzhaber resigned, the task force fell apart.

Farmers in Oregon and across the country have faced embargoes and huge losses due to contamination by GE and GMO crops, not to mention lawsuits brought against them by Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and other companies when they are found to have "stolen" the GE seeds (kind of like the wolf suing Little Red Riding Hood for assault). So with no protection from cross-contamination by pollen from GE and GMO crops, and with small farmers facing possible bankruptcy or worse, local communities want to decide for themselves how best to protect their farmers growing traditional, non-GE crops.

Some more history on Jackson County's ban.

More information on the issues of GE/GMO contamination from an Oregon farmer's perspective.

Articles on the economic effects of contamination:

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