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Award-winning author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food
Farmers and Sustainable Ag Groups File Lawsuit Challenging New Canola Rule that Threatens $100 Million Industry
April 25th, 2013

Moratorium Legislation Moving, Passes Key House Committee

Sustainable agriculture non-profits and Oregon farmers have filed a second lawsuit to halt the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) controversial new rule that would for the first time open the Willamette Valley to canola.  The plaintiffs are Friends of Family Farmers, Center for Food Safety, Universal Seed, and Wild Garden Seed.  They are represented by legal counsel from the Center for Food Safety and Field Jerger LLP.

Oregon has long prohibited industrial canola growing in the Willamette Valley due to the damage it causes to other crops and related agricultural markets.  ODA first proposed opening the Valley to planting last August on a temporary basis.  These same plaintiff groups immediately challenged in court citing irreparable harm and successfully blocked the rule in September.  

“Canola seriously endangers the environment and the valuable specialty crops that define the Willamette Valley, as ODA itself has long recognized.  This is a threat to the environment and the economy of Willamette Valley, and it is illegal,” said Center for Food Safety senior attorney George Kimbrell.

The harm from canola is well-documented.  Rapeseed, grown for canola oil, is able to cross-pollinate with any member of the brassica plant family including broccoli, kale, cabbage and other vegetables grown for seed across the Willamette.  Together, these existing industries are valued at well over $100 million in agricultural production annually.  Rapeseed can also cross-pollinate with certain weeds, heightening the risk of herbicide resistance and threatening seed purity for vegetable and clover seed producers.

“As an organic seed producer, my livelihood is reliant in part on the Willamette Valley being a current and future center of seed production.  Canola would irreparably harm that future,” said Frank Morton, owner of Wild Garden Seeds.

“A number of our domestic and international seed purchasers have already made statements that they will no longer purchase Oregon seeds if more canola comes to the Willamette Valley,” said Nick Tichinin, owner of Universal Seed. “ODA’s shortsighted decision to expand the canola area will have long lasting economic impacts on a sector of agriculture that has been deeply rooted in Oregon for generations and on all of the families that own those businesses.”

These problems are well-known to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which has maintained a protected district in the Willamette Valley since 1989 and enforced a strict ban on canola production since 2005.  After the temporary rule was blocked by the Oregon Court of Appeals, ODA held two public comment periods and public meetings in November 2012 and January 2013 on a proposed final rule.  Despite overwhelming opposition, ODA again approved unprecedented canola planting.

The issue has also been taken up by the Oregon Legislature.  On April 18, the Oregon House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee advanced HB 2427, which would place a five year moratorium on commercial rapeseed production in the Willamette Valley and require peer-reviewed research into the financial and cross-pollination risks rapeseed brings to specialty seed and clover production.

“Clearly, a wide range of legislators from both parties believe there needs to be a time-out on ODA’s rapeseed rule to address the risk this new crop brings to farmers and businesses across the Willamette Valley,” said Ivan Maluski, policy director with Friends of Family Farmers, who worked on the legislation.

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About Center for Food Safety

Center for Food Safety is a national, non-profit, membership organization founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture.  CFS maintains offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon.  More information can be found at www.centerforfoodsafety.org.

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