December 31, 2014 (Portland, OR)— Today two Jackson County farmers and two nonprofits, Center for Food Safety and Our Family Farms Coalition (OFFC), filed legal papers in federal court to defend Jackson County’s Ordinance 635 which was approved by voters as Measure 15-119. The ordinance, passed in May 2014, creates a genetically engineered crop free zone to protect local farmers from transgenic contamination. The coalition is jointly represented by legal counsel from Earthrise Law Center at Lewis and Clark Law School and Center for Food Safety.
In May, voters in Jackson County overwhelmingly approved measure 15-119 by a 66 percent to 34 percent margin. The bi-partisan supported victory came despite a wave of opposition funding from the chemical industry, topping out at nearly $1 million in opposition spending. Agricultural biotechnology interests have now challenged the Ordinance in court.
“Across the United States today family farmers growing traditional crops are being threatened by crops that have been genetically engineered to survive heavy pesticides or produce their own insecticide,” says Jackson County farmer and director of Our Family Farms Coalition, Elise Higley. “Monsanto, Syngenta and the other chemical giants have created a product they simply cannot control and which puts the livelihoods of family farmers everywhere at risk.”
“In passing Ordinance 635, Jackson County joined numerous other counties in securing vital protection for its farmers and the future of agriculture. We will continue to stand with the people and farmers of Jackson County, and vigorously defend the law,” said George Kimbrell, CFS’s senior attorney, based in Portland.
“This is a really important case because family farmers should have the right to be protected from contamination by genetically engineered crops,” says Tom Buchele an attorney with Earthrise. “Our involvement in this case is also key to defending the democratic vote in Jackson County”
Transgenic contamination, the transfer of genetically engineered crops to conventional, organic or wild plants, can happen through cross-pollination, seed mixing or other means throughout agricultural production. When it does happen, traditional farmers lose GE-sensitive domestic and export markets and customers, and contamination episodes in corn, wheat, rice, alfalfa, sugar beets, and other crops have cost U.S. farmers billions of dollars over the past decade. A state-sanctioned Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) of the ban, conducted prior to the election, concluded that farms in Jackson County are at “serious” risk of contamination by GE crops. The review also concluded that the initiative would not incur significant enforcement costs.
“When I learned that Syngenta was growing genetically engineered sugar beets close to my farm, I had little choice but to tear up the crops I was already growing that were likely to be contaminated,” explained Chris Hardy, a Jackson County farmer and chief petitioner who filed the ballot measure. “No farmer should have to worry about whether a patented product of Monsanto is going to drift onto their property and threaten their farm.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been criticized repeatedly in government reports for its failure to properly oversee agricultural biotechnology, including its inability to prevent transgenic contamination. As a consequence, over the past decade, numerous counties across the country have passed similar GE crop regulation ordinances including Santa Cruz County, CA, Trinity County, CA, Marin County, CA, Mendocino County, CA, Humboldt County, CA, San Juan County, WA, Maui County, HI, Hawaii County, HI, and numerous cities.