Pre-emption of local GMO regulations must remain

Biotech critics are calling on Oregon lawmakers to overturn a prohibition against local government restrictions on genetically engineered crops because the state has not enacted regulations.

Such regulation that is required should come from the state. Voters with little first-hand agriculture experience can be easily swayed by emotional arguments short on facts and long on fear mongering.

Legislators agreed.

In 2013, the Oregon Legislature passed a law that pre-empted cities and counties from setting their own rules over seeds, which blocked most local ordinances banning genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Groups that opposed the pre-emption bill say state inaction since it was passed has justified the passage of House Bill 2469, which would carve out an exemption allowing local GMO regulations.

“Oregon farmers can’t wait another four years to protect themselves from this harm,” said Amy van Saun, a legal fellow at the Center for Food Safety nonprofit group.

Beyond ideological resistance to GMOs, the practical concern for organic growers and some conventional farmers is a fear that their crops will be contaminated through cross-pollination.

That’s a reasonable fear, as accidental contamination of a farmer’s organic crops would render them unsellable in the organic market. But there is scant evidence that anyone in Oregon has yet been so harmed.

In 2015, Oregon lawmakers passed House Bill 2509, which created mediation protocols for growers who believe nearby farming practices are interfering with their operations.

Because of an error in that law, the Oregon Department of Agriculture actually lacked the authority to implement the program.

Nonetheless, since the law was passed the agency has received no requests for mediation under the program. Growers can seek similar mediation through the USDA, but none have expressed interest with that agency, either.

It is possible that growers are working out problems with their neighbors without involving government. That’s what good neighbors do.

The lack of official complaints does not minimize the potential for cross-pollination contamination or other issues. And the unintended release from field trials of Roundup Ready creeping bentgrass that has taken hold in Malheur and Jefferson counties is evidence that things can get out of control.

We are not arguing against a reasonable regulatory scheme that does not favor one type of crop or farming practice over another.

We are against 36 separate regulatory schemes, particularly those that impose outright bans.


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