Three Oregon Counties See Petitions To Ban Genetically Modified Crops

By Cassandra Profita

Activists are trying to ban genetically modified crops in Lane County through an initiative on the May 2014 ballot.

Eugene-based Support Local Food Rights filed an initial petition on Wednesday, The Register-Guard reports.

Lane is now the third county in Oregon to receive a petition to put the issue to a vote. A proposed ban has qualified for the 2014 ballot in Jackson County, and a petition in Benton County was filed but denied by the county clerk because it addressed too many issues. That denial is now being challenged in court. There’s also a group organizing a petition in Josephine County.

Oregon farmers grow genetically modified sugar beets, alfalfa and corn, and critics say those crops can contaminate organic crops through cross-pollination. The mysterious discovery of genetically modified wheat in Eastern Oregon in May shined a spotlight on the controversy over whether modified crops can be controlled.

Backers of the Lane County petition say they’re aiming for a broader ban than the one proposed in Jackson County. They modeled their measure after the initiative filed in Benton County, and they’re asking for a local food “bill of rights” that would trump county, state or federal regulations as well as the rights of any agricultural corporation.

It’s designed to withstand a legal challenge that a countywide ban might not survive, as The Register-Guard reports:

A potential sticking point? Oregon’s “Right to Farm” law protects all generally accepted farm practices from being infringed upon by local governments.

Some counties in the United States — Mendicino, Marin and Trinity in California and San Juan in Washington state — have successfully banned GM crops. But their ordinances typically haven’t been challenged because those areas don’t contain the intensive agricultural industry that relies on GMOs — genetically modified organisms.

Lane, Benton and Jackson counties in Oregon, however, “have farmers who would be impacted and harmed” by local bans, said Paulette Pyle of Oregonians for Food and Shelter.Φ

Cassandra Profita is OPB’s Ecotrope journalist blogger. Her blog, Ecotrope, offers a daily dose of environmental news, analysis and conversation. She was previously the environment and business reporter for The Daily Astorian, where she covered science and policy news on climate change, forestry, energy and fisheries. 

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