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Oregon's GMO Sellout

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Politics and Democracy page.

Even though the state of Oregon enacted a law to override the ability of localities to regulate their own food systems, local ballot measures to ban GMO crops passed overwhelmingly in Jackson and Josephine Counties on May 20, according to news reports. "We fought the most powerful and influential chemical companies in the world and we won," Elise Higley, a local farmer with the anti-GMO group Our Family Farms Coalition, told The Oregonian. The Progressive magazine tells the backstory below and reveals that the preemption measure shares language with an ALEC model bill.

When the headline said that Oregon's Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber, had signed into law a corporate-backed bill overriding local counties' ability to regulate their own food systems, Lisa Arkin was shocked.

"I can viscerally remember the day I looked at the headline," she says. "It was such a deep feeling of disgust and disbelief. I couldn't believe that any amount of money from outside corporations could convince our elected leaders in Oregon to abandon the democratic process in that way."

Arkin is the executive director of a small nonprofit organization called Beyond Toxics that works to protect human health and the environment in Oregon by reducing the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides on farms, in forests, and along roadsides.

Arkin's group sees every day the effects of herbicides like Monsanto's RoundupĀ® glyphosate. Most genetically modified crops (GMOs) in the United States are engineered to withstand especially heavy application of this herbicide.

In a special session called for late September and early October 2013 to address Oregon's Public Employees Retirement System and education funding, legislators jammed through a bill that preempts Oregon counties from regulating their own agriculture and seeds.

The law, which Arkin and other critics call the "Monsanto Protection Act," is eerily similar to a piece of "model" legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The new law and ALEC's bill, entitled "Preemption of Local Agricultural Laws Act," both contain this crucial passage: "A local government may not enact or enforce a . . . measure, including but not limited to an ordinance, regulation, control area or quarantine, to inhibit or prevent the production or use of agricultural seed, flower seed . . . or vegetable seed or products of agricultural seed, flower seed . . . or vegetable seed."

The effort to block local democratic control of food issues in Oregon began after family farmers and sustainable food advocates in Jackson County gathered enough signatures in January 2013 to put a local GMO ban on the ballot in the spring of 2014.    


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