Activists who were pushing to ban genetically modified crops in Oregon counties are now looking at the possibility of a statewide initiative.
Oregon lawmakers put the brakes on anti-GMO initiatives in four counties – Lane, Benton, Josephine and Multnomah – during a special session this week.
Senate Bill 863, which prohibits local ordinances banning modified crops, was folded into a package of five bills addressing state spending, taxes and education in a “grand bargain” backed by Gov. John Kitzhaber. All five bills passed on Wednesday.
The deal was a victory for agricultural industry groups who didn’t want farmers across the state subjected to a patchwork of local ordinances regulating genetically modified seeds.
“This ensures all farmers in Oregon are operating under a single regulatory structure,” said Scott Dahlman, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter.
Anti-GMO groups are responding to the new law by looking at the options for banning genetically modified crops statewide – at least temporarily while they push for stronger statewide regulations.
In the meantime, initiatives filed for the 2014 ballot would allow voters to decide whether the state should require labeling of genetically modified food.
Scott Bates, director of the activist group GMO-free Oregon, said the new law, SB 863, favors state regulation of agriculture over local controls.
“So we’ll definitely be exploring statewide options,” he said. “It’s a little harder because you have to get the whole state on board as opposed to dealing with matters of county concern, but we’ll be chasing that for sure.”
Gov. Kitzhaber said this week that he plans to introduce legislation addressing genetically modified crop issues in 2015. He is convening a “balanced task force” to advise the Oregon Department of Agriculture on using its existing authorities to address conflicts between genetically modified and non-genetically modified crops in the near term.
He suggested implementing a system that would coordinate what is grown where and when, requiring buffers around genetically modified crops and creating exclusion zones.
“It is my intent to put together a work group to examine all aspects of tho issue,” he said at a press conference Wednesday. “From how we prevent the contamination of local organic agriculture with GE products to how we protected areas that are extremely important to be pure from GE products such as our export market in northeast Oregon market for wheat and to look at issues of labeling.”
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