By Brenda Gaines
Late last Friday, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) sent out a news release announcing its plan to file a temporary administrative rule that would dramatically expand the area in the Willamette Valley where canola can be grown: from a few hundred acres to 300,000 acres. This short-sighted ruling, which would invite canola, including GE (genetically engineered) canola, into the protected zone of the Willamette Valley, could mean the ruination of the specialty seed industry.
Regions of Growing
This move on ODA’s part would open up one of the world’s premier regions for growing vegetable seed crops to a noxious species of brassica that readily cross-pollinates, thus contaminating the genetics of other brassica crops. Brassica family plants grown for seed production in the Willamette Valley include broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and kale, among many others. As the ODA regulation that originally established these control areas states, “production of rapeseed [canola] for oil or seed is incompatible with production of crops of the same or related species grown for seed or vegetables.” OAR 603-052-0880(2). Many customers of Willamette Valley seed growers claim they will not renew their contracts if canola is planted in the protected zone. There is too much at stake.
Plants grown for seed must meet extremely high purity standards. Even low levels of contamination – especially from GE Roundup Ready canola – could prove devastating for seed growers, whose markets reject transgenic contamination. Canola also produces huge numbers of seeds, and large numbers are left in the field after harvest, generating numerous “volunteer” canola plants, which ensures a contamination threat for years to come. Roundup Ready (RR) canola volunteers are immune to Roundup, making them particularly hard to control, and in fact RR canola volunteers are an emerging weed threat in California. Canola is also often infested with insect pests and fungal diseases, and specialty growers are concerned they could be spread to their valuable seed crops.
For an agency to issue a temporary rule, it must prove that the need for this rule is important enough to deny the public their right to weigh in on it. The agency must provide “a statement of its findings that its failure to act promptly will result in serious prejudice to the public interest or the interest of the parties concerned and the specific reasons for its findings of prejudice.” ODA has not issued formal findings to this effect, and it is unclear to us how the inability of some unnamed producers in one region to plant one particular crop in this particular year could constitute enough of a “serious prejudice” to necessitate this temporary rule and the denial of the public’s right to comment. If failure to be able to plant canola in September of 2012 in parts of the Willamette Valley is a “serious prejudice” to these growers, it is the ODA that has created this prejudice by failing to initiate a formal rulemaking process (with notice and comment) several months ago.
Pulling Out the Rug While Rolling Out the Red Carpet
ODA seems to be rolling out the red carpet to a handful of interested canola producers and the Willamette Biomass Processors by pulling the rug out from under our world renowned and highly lucrative specialty seed industry. How ODA has come to the conclusion that canola is now a good idea is unfounded. The department refuses to refute any of the research findings conducted by OSU in 2009 on behalf of ODA. These findings were what that lead to the creation of the protected zone in the first place!
If the temporary rule is put into place, canola growers would be able to “pin” their production sites on the map. And once canola is in the ground, it would be nearly impossible to control it. This temporary rule would have a permanent, irreversible effect on seed production in the Willamette Valley. If ODA files for this temporary rule on August 10th, it would simultaneously file for permanent rulemaking, which would allow for public input, but if canola is already in the ground at the time of the hearings, the damage will already be done. Φ
Brenda Gaines is CEO of Diners Club North America. Gaines is responsible for the daily operations of the world’s first credit card and as such is one of the most powerful women and most powerful African Americans in the financial field – quite an accomplishment for a woman who confessed to Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), “In graduate school I had no intention of ever going into corporate America. It never even crossed my mind.”