Aides to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber say he will propose legislation later this month to facilitate the coexistence of conventional, organic and genetically modified crops within the state.
It’s a promising announcement, but unfortunately short on details.
Producers of Oregon’s high-value specialty seed crops and organic producers have legitimate concerns about the potential for cross-pollination with GMO crops. Farmers who grow, or who may in the future want to grow, GMO crops must be allowed to produce crops approved by the federal government.
They are not mutually exclusive objectives.
During a special session late in 2013, the Oregon legislature pre-empted most local governments from restricting genetically modified crops at Kitzhaber’s urging. The bill was part of a legislative package that also included corporate tax increases and was known as the “grand bargain,” which the House and Senate leaderships worked out in advance with Kitzhaber.
The idea was to avoid a patchwork of county regulation, and to give the Oregon Department of Agriculture time to work out a reasonable scheme that addresses legitimate concerns of organic and conventional growers of high-value crops who fear contamination from genetically engineered pollen.
The governor then appointed a task force to frame the controversy over genetically modified organisms and inform lawmakers’ decisions on possible statewide legislation later.
The task force consisted of stakeholders representing all camps, who predictably found it difficult to agree on much except there needs to be more clarity in the role of the state in regulating production of genetically modified crops.
Clarity is in the eye of the beholder.
The state loses any power to restrict where genetically modified crops can be grown once they are deregulated by USDA.
Proponents of stronger regulation say the state could pass legislation giving the ODA the authority to establish restrictions on where and how GMO crops could be grown. They point to a mapping system used by seed growers in the Willamette Valley.
They would also like a mechanism for compensating farmers if their crops are cross-pollinated.
Supporters of GMO crops favor a more voluntary approach. They say neighbors should be able to work out the particulars among themselves with minimal regulation.
We prefer as soft a touch as possible. But once the Legislature is involved, we’re past the point where neighbors can reach accommodations. The issue has become too polarizing.
We still have hope that common sense can prevail to the benefit of all in agriculture. Farmers who grow conventional or organic crops can be protected without denying others the choice of growing genetically modified crops already approved, or capitalizing on the opportunities that lie in the next advancement.