This Grand Bargain Ain’t So Grand Anymore

by Rick North of Durham, Oregon. Rick is the former executive vice president of the Oregon American Cancer Society and former project director of the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility's Campaign For Safe Food. He retired two years ago to confront the undue corporate influence of big money on our elections, government and most aspects of our lives.

(Editor's note: Please sign the Stop the Oregon Monsanto Protection Act petition, asking Governor Kitzhaber to remove this legislation from the special session.--C.A.)

In the “Grand Bargain” revising the state’s budget, taxes and PERS payments, an unwelcome visitor has appeared, the resurrection of SB 633. The bill, killed by the House in this year’s legislature, would pre-empt counties and cities from regulating genetically engineered (also known as GE, GM or GMO) crops. The only exception would be Jackson County.

According to a recent article in the Oregonian, the bill was thrown in as a “bargaining chip” to get Republicans to go along with the plan.

For all of us concerned about food safety, farmers’ rights and preserving democracy, please excuse us if SB 633 looks more like a cow chip than a bargaining chip.

This all started in Jackson County last year, where farmers discovered that Syngenta, Monsanto’s twin brother in Switzerland, had planted experimental GMO sugar beets within a mile of organic farmers’ fields on the outskirts of Ashland. This was a flagrant violation of the four-mile buffer zone required by the USDA. At least three farmers had to destroy their crops because of likely GMO contamination.

Outraged, the farmers requested the USDA to come in to investigate. And what did they get for their efforts? A brush-off telling them USDA wouldn’t disclose the results of the investigation. It’s all confidential, just between the fed’s and the biotech firms.

The farmers then went to the Oregon Department of Agriculture for answers, but ODA has no authority over USDA permit violations. Believe it or not, other than the county where plantings take place, ODA doesn’t have a clue where the GMO plots are – that’s confidential too. (Syngenta later acknowledged there were 30-40 test plots in Jackson County.) When the farmers then went to the Jackson County council for relief, all they got was a promise to appoint a study group.

The farmers then tried working out an agreement with Syngenta through community meetings, but the company ended up walking out of negotiations. Having gotten exactly nowhere with all three levels of government, a mass uprising of had-it-up-to-here residents gathered thousands of signatures to put an initiative on the Jackson County ballot for next May to ban the growing of GMO crops there to protect their farmers’ livelihoods and consumers from health risks.

But we can’t have local democracy in action, can we? Oregonians for Food and Shelter and the Oregon Farm Bureau, biotech puppets who have most state Republican legislators in their back pocket, jumped into action. OFS proudly features board members from Monsanto and Syngenta and the Farm Bureau also receives funding from biotech companies. Presto! SB 633, designed to kill Jackson County’s initiative and anyone else’s.

Make no mistake where this GMO pre-emption movement started – the Koch Brothers and their infamous American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that drafts state legislation promoting the interests of corporations over democracy. In 2004, ALEC came out with its “Biotechnology State Uniformity Resolution” a pre-emption template adopted in some form by 15 states.

ALEC wants Oregon to be the next domino to fall and incredibly, it looks like it’s getting Democrats to help them. Have your crayons handy, because if this GMO turkey of a bill passes, you can color blue Oregon purple, shading toward red.

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