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Communities enact bans on GMO crops

Two Oregon farmers are defending a local ordinance in federal court in a campaign to protect their harvests and create a zone free of genetically engineered crops.

The Center for Food Safety and Our Family Farms Coalition joined the farmers in the defense of the Jackson County ordinance approved by voters in May 2014. Campaigns are underway to enact similar measures in other parts of the country, including in Wisconsin.

In the Oregon county, the ordinance passed 66-34 percent, despite opposition from the chemical industry, which spent nearly $1 million on its campaign against the local law that now faces a legal challenge.

“Across the United States today, family farmers growing traditional crops are being threatened by crops that have been genetically engineered to survive heavy pesticides or produce their own insecticide,” said Elise Higley, a farmer and director of Our Family Farms Coalition. “Monsanto, Syngenta and other chemical giants have created a product they simply cannot control and which puts the livelihood of family farmers everywhere at risk.”

Tom Buchele, an attorney with Earthrise, which is involved in the legal defense of the ordinance, said their case is about a farmer’s right to protect crops from contamination and valuing a democratic vote.

Transgenic contamination is the transfer of genetically engineered crops to conventional, organic or wild plants. When contamination occurs, traditional farmers can lose the opportunity to sell in GE-sensitive domestic and foreign markets or to customers who avoid genetically modified foods. 

“When I learned that Syngenta was growing genetically engineered sugar beets close to my farm, I had little choice but to tear up the crops I was already growing that were likely to be contaminated,” said Chris Hardy, one of the farmers defending the ordinance. “No farmer should have to worry about whether a patented product of Monsanto is going to drift onto their property and threaten their farm.”

Other communities with zones restricting the use of genetically engineered seeds or plants include Boulder, Colorado; San Juan County, Washington; Montville, Maine; and Marin County, California.

Some states, including Wisconsin, have limited laws addressing the use of genetically engineered plants or organisms. Other states, including Iowa and Indiana, have laws against local control of GMOs.

Activists are engaged in at least two related campaigns in Wisconsin. Right to Know GMO is promoting GMO labeling in the state and a petition is circulating on MoveOn.org to declare La Pointe and Madeline Island in Ashland County a zone free of genetically engineered crops.