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Oregon Farmers File Suit to Prevent Destructive Canola Planting in Willamette Valley

August 15, 2012
Center for Food Safety

Groups and producers take action to halt threat to the state’s vital seed production and organic industry

Today, in an effort to stop the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) from an unprecedented expansion of industrial, genetically engineered canola production into the boundaries in the Willamette Valley,  Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF), Center for Food Safety (CFS) and three Willamette Valley specialty seed producers jointly filed suit challenging ODA’s temporary rule that would irreparably harm the state’s organic agriculture production and specialty and clover seed industries.

“We had no other option than to go to the courts,” said Leah Rodgers, Field Director for FoFF. “We have tried to work with the Kitzhaber administration to slow down this process and engage all stakeholders in public notice and comment, but ODA steamrolled producers and have rushed to open 1.7 million acres in the Willamette Valley to canola, a low-value crop with a huge, adverse impact on several high-value industries. This could mean disaster for Oregon’s seed and organic industries.”

On Friday, August 10th, ODA announced its temporary rule, effective immediately, opening formerly protected, canola-prohibited zones. The agency also initiated a permanent rule process, but only while planting already begins. ODA filed the rule to allow canola farmers to plant by September 1, without allowing public comment or a hearing, despite the potential for devastating harm to existing Willamette Valley industries from the new plantings. Oregon has prohibited the introduction of canola since 2009 because of numerous adverse impacts to existing seed production: transgenic contamination, the creation of resistant weed species and the proliferation of disease and pests.

“ODA’s rushed, backroom deal-cutting is the textbook way agencies act when they know they’re doing wrong,” said George Kimbrell, Senior Attorney at Center for Food Safety. “This irresponsible and unlawful approval of unprecedented canola planting gambles with the stability of Oregon’s agricultural crown jewel, and all for some GE canola biofuel speculation.”

Canola cross-pollinates with similar brassicas, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and turnips, and it easily naturalizes as a weed, increasing the chance that canola and canola pollen will become a permanent presence wherever it is grown. For example, canola will readily cross-pollinate with wild mustard, an already common and prolific roadside weed in Oregon. It is documented that contamination from GM canola will create a new class of difficult-to-control, glyphosate resistant mustard.

The strong potential for genetically engineered (GE) cross-contamination of crops will critically harm the overall marketability and reputation of Oregon’s specialty seed industry, which has an international reputation for producing high quality, non-contaminated seeds. Oregon’s organic seed producers will also be directly harmed by the proposed ODA rule since USDA organic guidelines prohibit the use of GE contaminated seed, as will the state’s clover growers as canola weeds go to seed in clover fields will likely contaminate their harvest.

“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.”

The public is also being heard regarding ODA’s plans. Over the course of its first week, an opposition petition collected more than 10,000 signatures from Oregonians and another 10,000 from citizens across the nation. The petition was delivered to Oregon Governor John Kizhaber and ODA Director Katy Coba.

“ODA’s temporary rule is inconsistent with stated ODA policy that canola production is incompatible with other agricultural activities in the Willlamette Valley,” said Scott Jerger, of Field Jerger, Attorneys at Law. “ODA failed to make the necessary findings regarding harm to the public before adopting the rule.”

Named co-plaintiffs in the case include Friends of Family Farmers, Center for Food Safety, Universal Seed, Wild Garden Seed and Wild West Seeds. Other organizations offering public opposition to ODA’s new rule include Fresh Market Growers Association, Specialty Seed Growers and Clover Growers Association.


About Friends of Family Farmers
Friends of Family Farmers is a grassroots organization promoting sensible policies, programs, and regulations that protect and expand the ability of Oregon’s family farmers to run a successful land-based enterprise while providing safe and nutritious food for all Oregonians. Through education, advocacy, and community organizing, Friends of Family Farmers supports socially and environmentally responsible family-scale agriculture and citizens working to shape healthy rural and urban communities. You can find out more about Friends of Family Farmers at

About Center for Food Safety
The 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. More information can be found at

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