On May 20, 2014, Jackson County Oregon voters approved a ban on genetically engineered organisms. A similar ban was approved in nearby Josephine County. Both measures were counter to a previous state law, Senate Bill 863, which was enacted in 2013 and prohibited Oregon counties from regulating or banning GMOs. Jackson and Josephine Counties were exempted from SB 863 as their petitions had already been approved to appear on the ballot.
A new measure, HB 4122, or the Transgenic Contamination Prevention Bill, sponsored by Representative Paul Holvey of Eugene and Representative Peter Buckley of Ashland, would repeal SB 863 and would allow local governments the power to ban the “production or use of seed or seed products for purpose of protecting seed or products that are not genetically engineered seed or products.” House Speaker Tina Kotek sent the proposed measure to the House Consumer Protection Committee where its fate is to be decided.
The biotech industry would prefer not to have individual fights with counties, particularly after having conquered the state as a whole. After all, in the Jackson County fight, Monsanto spent $183,294 to defeat the ban, DuPont $129,647, Syngenta $75,000, Dow AgroSciences $22,353, and many other contributions poured in from other agribusiness interests amounting to about $1 million. Pro-ban activists were outspent by more than two to one. All of the donations from the biotech industry were funneled through two lobbying groups in Oregon.
Oregonians for Food and Shelter (OFS) proclaim that they “proudly feature board members from Monsanto and Syngenta,” and the Oregon Farm Bureau (OFB) also receives funding from biotech companies. Scott Dahlman, a previous executive director of OFS openly stated that the group defends “the right to…use pesticides and biotechnology.” A previous version of its website stated that it was initially founded in order to “do battle with activists seeking an initiative to ban aerial application of forest herbicides.” Anne Marie Moss, Communications Director at the OFB, states that their mission, in part, is to fight regulation. She said that there is “already a lot of regulation so, as a whole, we try to push back.” Monsanto and Syngenta together donate close to 30% of the Oregon Farm Bureau’s annual budget.
Both groups, which function essentially as lobbying arms for the biotech industry, are actively involved in preventing the passage of HB 4122. They wish to maintain the fundamentals of SB 863, or the “Monsanto Protection Act” as it was dubbed by critics, and which was clearly chemical company driven legislation. SB 863 was enacted when the governor at the time, John Kitzhaber, wanted to ensure other aspects of his legislative program and so capitulated to the biotech industry. Kitzhaber said at the time that the GMO preemption bill had “nothing to do with the purposes for which I originally called the session,” and that there was no “rational reason for it to be in the bill package.” He said he supported it because “it was the reality of the negotiating process.” He promised at the time to find a legislative solution, but then he became embroiled in a political scandal that drove him out of office. HB 4122 grew out of a lack of solutions inherent in SB 863.
Basically, HB 4122 comes down on the side of farmers who need to be protected against contamination from nearly genetically engineered crops. “We lose money when we have a GMO contamination event, which I’ve had happen twice,” said Don Tipping, an organic seed grower. “We lost money directly, as have other growers.” There cannot be any form of coexistence between conventional and organic farmers with GMO farmers as there is no way to control wind blown GMO pollen from contaminating other fields. “This bill puts the decision-making back to the local government,” said Elise Higley, a Jackson County farmer.
HB 4122 is simply a remedy to keep money from outside corporations from convincing local politicians to abandon a democratic process. Oregon needs to distance itself from legislative initiatives proposed by the likes of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which has actively promoted its “Preemption of Local Agricultural Laws Act.” That Act, as well as SB 863, contain this passage: “A local government may not enact or enforce a measure, including but not limited to an ordinance, regulation, control area or quarantine, to inhibit or prevent the production or use of agricultural seed.”
OFS officially took credit for drafting SB 863 in 2013 and most certainly, on the behalf of the biotech industry, will fight hard against the passage of HB 4122. No one guarantees that passage of this bill will automatically result in outright bans of GMOs. What it will do is return control of our farmland to local governments and allow the farmers who live and work on the land to make decisions that affect them and the communities in which they live.
Recipe of the Week
1/2 lb black-eyed peas, preferably soaked in water the night before
1 onion, chopped
6 large cloves garlic, minced
3 or 4 celery stalks, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 tbls. dried oregano
4 pieces of bacon, chopped (optional)
Pour the peas and their liquid into a soup pot. Add all other ingredients except the bacon. Cover with water (about 3 inches over the top and you may have to add more as it cooks down). Cook for about 2 hours or until beans are done. While beans are cooking, saute the bacon until crisp and then chop. Add to the finished beans. Taste for salt and pepper. You can eat them plain or serve them over rice with hot sauce.