What happens when a ballot measure to establish a countywide ban on planting GMO seeds is scheduled for a public vote in 2014? A bill, titled SB633, quickly appears at the state level to preempt local regulation of all seeds and “products” of such seeds.
Dubbed Oregon’s ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ by local activists, SB633 was put forward by Oregonians for Food and Shelter, a group that states on their website that their goal is to “educate our members, the public, and decision-makers on the importance of pesticides, fertilizer, and biotechnology . . .” The group, which counts members of biotech giants Monstanto and Syngenta among its board members, introduced the bill at the state legislature soon after GMO-Free Jackson County and their supporters gathered over 6,500 signatures to place a measure on the ballot to ban GM seeds and crops within the county. This local action was in response to crop loss organic farmers in the area experienced due to genetic cross-contamination with GMO crops, and a lack of state level action to address these concerns.
Ivan Maluski, Policy Director with Friends of Family Farmers, a grassroots organization supporting socially and environmentally responsible family-scale agriculture throughout Oregon said the bill was hard for many legislators to understand. “It didn’t explicitly talk about GM crops or food labeling, or that its impact would be to block local communities from making food and farming choices for themselves that are stronger than state and federal standards.” said Maluski, who points out the state of Oregon does not currently regulate GM crops or foods.
While SB633 did pass narrowly pass the Oregon Senate in late April, it hit a roadblock of stronger opposition in the House. It was through overwhelming public outcry that the bill was dropped before coming to a vote in the House. While this was a victory for the rights of allowing local citizens to control the types of seeds planted in their county, the fight isn’t over. The Oregon Legislature meets again in February 2014, where the biotech lobby has already vowed to revive SB 633 in a new form before Jackson County citizens get to vote on their proposed GMO ban in May.
Slow Food Portland has made a commitment to educating our members and others on issues facing farmers who want to farm organically and sustainably in Oregon, including on GMO seed and right-to-know issues. Last spring Slow Food Portland members attended a Small Farmer and Rancher Lobby Day at the State Capitol, and also partnered with Friends of Family Farmers to present a workshop highlighting how a bill becomes a law, and what citizens can do to affect the legislative process. Maluski, leading the workshop, informed attendees about SB 633 and many other bills that impact the small-scale sustainable farmers and ranchers throughout Oregon that Slow Food Portland members are working to support.
By helping defeat the Oregon ‘Monsanto Protection Act,’ it is clear that Slow Food’s efforts at public education and activism for local food and sustainable farming policy can really make a difference.