A federal judge in Oregon has handed local governments and organic farmers an important weapon in the battle against GMO crops.
U.S. Judge Mark D. Clarke upheld voter-passed Measure 15-119 , a ban on genetically engineered crops in Jackson County, Oregon – and a law that Monsanto and other biotech companies staunchly opposed.
It was a major loss for Monsanto, which was backing a challenge to the ordinance and had contributed to a nearly $1 million advertising campaign against it.
A group of farmers that grow Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa had sued the county in an attempt to block the ordinance’s implementation. The farmers were contending that the ordinance violated Oregon’s Right to Farm law.
Family farms and supporters of the law asserted it was necessary to protect the county’s organic farms from contamination – and Clarke agreed.
“Based on the text and context of the Right to Farm Act and Measure 15-119 , the Court finds that the Ordinance intends to protect against damage to commercial agriculture products, and therefore it falls into the exception to the Right to Farm Act,” Clarke wrote in his opinion.
Farmers, he wrote, “have always been able to bring claims against other farmers for practices that cause actionable damage to their commercial agriculture.” The ordinance, he wrote, “serves to prevent such damage before it happens.”
Law Would Require Destruction of GMO Plants
The farmers argued that Measure 15-119 violated their rights because it would require farmers to destroy the GMO crops they had planted. The ordinance – passed in May 2014 by a 2-to-1 margin – allows them to harvest this year’s crop and gives them 12 months to transition to non-GMO plants.
Jackson County and anti-GMO groups contend that the county has the power to regulate farming under Oregon law.
“The court upheld the Ordinance on the grounds that it was intended to protect against damage to commercial agricultural products, which is allowed under the Right to Farm Act, and because it was expressly allowed by the Oregon Legislature,” the Coalition’s email stated.
Jackson County resident Jared Watters voted for the ordinance.
“I think a farmer should be able to plant what he wants. What’s more important is that a farmer doesn’t have a right to plant something that will hurt his neighbor’s crop,” he told OregonLive.com when the ordinance passed. “There’s no way for co-existence between GMO and non-GMO.”
Legislature Prevents Other Oregon Communities from Banning GMOs
Jackson County’s victory is far from complete, though, as the law’s opponents can appeal Clarke’s decision.
The Oregon state legislature previously passed legislation that specifically bars local communities from banning GMO plants. It was signed into law.
That law, the Seed Bill, specifically exempted Jackson County, because Measure 15-119 already had qualified for the ballot when the bill passed.
“It is clear from the text and context of the Seed Bill that the Oregon legislature meant to preempt counties and other local governments from enacting laws banning the use of GE seeds so that the GMO issue could be addressed on a state-wide, uniform basis,” Clarke wrote.
Since the Seed Bill is now the law in Oregon, it would be illegal for other communities in the state to ban GMO plants. To pass more bans, GMO opponents would have to overturn the Seed Bill.
Monsanto has suffered a setback, but it still has powerful allies.
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