Friday, February 24, 2017

Your Food, Your Legislature: Genetically Engineered Crops; Farm-to-School Funding

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 you with contact information 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 sponsors of legislation are listed on the information pages of the bills (links above), and links are provided for their offices. You can find your own legislators here if you want to contact them about these or other issues.

We're one month into the six month-long 2017 session of the Oregon Legislature. Today is the deadline for drafts of proposed legislation to be completed, then legislators will have until Tuesday to take them to the House and Senate desks for introduction. The bills of particular concern to Oregon farmers and consumers are outlined below.

Genetically engineered sugar beet.

Additionally, I will be moderating a panel on these issues and others at the Friends of Family Farmers InFarmation gathering on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at 6:30 pm at Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison. Make plans to attend and get more information on these bills and other issues, as well as ask any questions you may have.

Allowing local communities to protect farmers whose crops may be at risk of contamination from genetically engineered (GE) seed or products (HB 2469). This bill will allow counties in Oregon to protect farmers within their boundaries from contamination of their crops by genetically engineered (GE) crops. It effectively repeals a bill dubbed the "Monsanto Protection Act" that was signed into law in 2013 by then-Governor John Kitzhaber that took away the rights of local communities to set local food and agriculture policies. On Feb. 8 a press conference was held in the State Capitol in Salem laying out the case for these two bills and the history behind it (video here; press conference starts at 11:35 mark). Sponsors are currently working to secure committee hearings on this bill.

Strengthening the ability of farmers to hold patent-holders of GE crops financially accountable when unwanted presence of their products is found on farmers’ land (HB 2739). This bill clarifies that the responsibility of contamination of a farmer's crops by another farmer's GE crops lies with the patent-holder, allowing the court to award prevailing plaintiff costs, attorney fees and triple the economic damages. In many cases in the past, the farmer who is the victim of contamination has not only lost his crops, but has been successfully sued by the patent-holder for "stealing" the GE crops. In addition, in some cases organic farmers have lost their organic certification due to this kind of contamination by GE crops, essentially putting them out of business. Oregon farmers deserve to have legal recourse in the event of this kind of contamination.

Portland's Sabin School Garden Program.

Ensuring continued funding for Oregon's Farm-to-School program (HB 2038). This bill appropriates funds to the Department of Education for grant programs allowing school districts to purchase Oregon food products and to pay for costs related to food-based, agriculture-based and garden-based educational activities. Currently, Governor Kate Brown’s proposed two-year budget contains no funding for Farm-to-School. In 2015, the Legislature provided over $5 million in funding for a farm-to-school program. However, this funding expires in July 2017, and because Oregon is facing a severe budget shortfall of roughly $1.8 billion, top Legislative budget writers earlier this year proposed significant cuts to the program.

See the first post in this series for other bills affecting farmers and consumers in Oregon this session. For more information, read the entire series here.

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