[4/22/17] VICKI BATTS– While some states and counties in the US are making moves to encourage food freedom and stop the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides, citizens in other areas of the country are fighting for their voices to be heard. Take Oregon, for example. Senate Bill 1037 would have restored counties’ rights to protect their farmers’ crops from GMOs after they were stripped away in 2013 with the passing of SB 863. SB 863 created a “statewide preemption” but no protections for local farmers were ever put into place. House Bill 2469 would have also helped to restore farmers’ rights and exempted GMO crops from the statewide preemption.
These bills would have represented great strides for farmers in Oregon, but unfortunately, these bills have died. As Capital Press reports, “Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, said he’s decided to let SB 1037 die during the April 13 meeting of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs.”
HB 2469 also met its end in the House Agricultural and Natural Resource Committee, thanks to a legislative deadline.
Dembrow claims that there are simply “too many looming questions” about GMO cross-pollination, and the effectiveness of co-existence efforts. “I want to get a sense if there are problems with contamination or if there are problems with the mediation process,” he stated. Does it really matter where the problem is stemming from — either way, SB 863 has greatly infringed on farmer rights, and it has stripped counties of the ability to make decisions on what is grown in their communities. For example, residents of Josephine County elected to ban GMOs in 2014, but a judge ruled that the state’s preemption law superseded their vote.
Supporters of SB 1037 said that the presence of GMO elements in their crops could wreak havoc on their farms — and consequently, their livelihoods. Josephine County resident Carol Valentine commented, “Our farms remain at risk of contamination because the state has not put any protections in place.”
Some of the bill’s detractors noted that very few organic farmers had reported crop losses due to GMO contamination to the USDA, while others went straight to denying that citizens should have the right to choose at a county level. Mike McArthur, the executive director of The Association of Oregon Counties states the organization opposed SB 1037 because “genetic engineering is a complex issue best left to state government.”
“This is not the proper role for a county government to be engaged in,” he brazenly stated.
While the process of creating a GMO crop may be very complex, the issue at hand is not: It is an issue of rights, and not an issue of science, though it is often misconstrued that way. Regardless of how one feels about GMOs, whether or not you think them safe has very little to do with the fact that people’s rights are being infringed upon. Real farmers are actually being negatively affected by GMOs, and they should not be effectively silenced by their own government.
FoodAndWaterWatch.org reported on a survey of organic Midwestern farmers in 2013 — and that survey found that 1 out of every 3 farmers had experienced some kind of contamination on their farms from GMO crops. Over half of them had their crops rejected by their buyers for that reason, and reported median losses of $4,500.
While no farmers have reported losing crops in Oregon this year, just because something hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t.
In 2014, a GMO-labeling bill was also defeated in Oregon — largely in part due to a huge lobbying effort pioneered by biotech and agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont. Is it possible that something similar happened this time around too? It certainly isn’t beyond reason to suspect that industry lobbyists played a role in the loss of these bills that would have restored rights back to where they belong: In the hands of the people. (RELATED: Keep up with the latest news on GM crops at GMO.news)