A federal judge in southern Oregon recently decided to uphold Jackson County’s ban on genetically engineered crops after two alfalfa farms requested that the ban be blocked.
Jackson County, Oregon is ahead of the curve when it comes to GMOs. The county successfully passed a GMO ban in 2014 after a group of local petitioners in Oregon called GMO-Free Jackson County, filed petitions with over 6,700 signatures in January of 2013. The initiative also called on the county to provide inspections and allow enforcement through citizen lawsuits. Of course, Monsanto tried to overturn the ban with a lawsuit of their own, but a federal judge has declared the GMO ban will stand.
US Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke has found the Jackson County Oregon GMO ban is not pre-empted by the state’s “right to farm” law, thereby allowing the ordinance to become effective. It becomes law on June 5.
The judge has recognized GE crops pose a considerable commercial threat to non-biotech growers, which was a key issue in the litigation, Kimbrell said:
“This case is a resounding affirmation of the right of farmers to protect themselves from Genetically Engineered contamination.”
The lawsuit brought by two local farmers backed by Monsanto opposed the anti-GMO ordinance and cited the Oregon Right to Farm Act that protects farmers from neighbors who might complain about noise, smells, dust, and other farming practices.
Judge Clarke responded:
“While farming practices may not be limited by a suburbanite’s sensitivities, they may be limited if they cause damage to another farm’s crops.”
Due to this ruling, farmers who already have genetically engineered crops can harvest this year, but must remove the crops within 12 months.
The biotech-backed farmers are also trying to squeeze $4.2 million in compensation from Jackson County in a still-active case.
The growers argue that forcing them to remove about 300 acres of herbicide-resistant “Roundup Ready” alfalfa amounts to the county condemning their property for public use, which requires just compensation.
Of course, they make no mention of the condemnation of human health which GM crops insist.
“We are elated and could not have hoped for a better outcome,” said Elise Higley, a Jackson County farmer and the director of Our Family Farms Coalition. “Family farmers should not have to live in fear that our farms will be contaminated by genetically engineered crops.”
George Kimbrell with the Center for Food Safety, a group critical of biotech crops. said:
“This important decision protects the farmers of Jackson County, but also will stand as a precedent for the rights of farmers and communities across the United States to create GMO-free zones to protect the future of our food.”
Clark’s finding is a big win for non-GMO advocates, but they do expect even more litigation.
The ruling will be challenged before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the group.