Oregon Legislature Blocks Local Bans on Genetically Modified Crops

Published November 4, 2013

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) signed into law a bill preventing county governments from banning genetically modified crops. In a special session convened to deal with a wide range of issues, the Senate passed the bill by a 17-12 vote and the House passed the bill by 32–22. Jackson County, which has already scheduled a spring 2014 vote on the topic, was exempted and will be allowed to decide the issue for itself.

The legislation contains an emergency clause that allows the bill to take effect immediately, precluding efforts in Benton and Lane counties to restrict genetically modified crops.

Governor Defied Activist Groups
The bill was one of five Kitzhaber signed into law after the special legislative session. The other bills focused on fiscal and budgetary issues.

Kitzhaber signed the bill despite vigorous environmental activist opposition. The Oregon Environmental Council, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Friends of Family Farmers, Organically Grown Company, and the Sierra Club all opposed the bill.

Kitzhaber Pledges New Regulations
Kitzhaber said he supports regulation of genetically modified crops, but believes the state, rather than smaller jurisdictions, should enact the regulations. He pledged to support a bill for statewide regulations in the 2015 legislative session.

Between now and the 2015 session Kitzhaber pledged to:

•    direct the Oregon Department of Agriculture to use its existing authority to deal with conflicts between GMO and non-GMO crops;
•    require the state Department of Agriculture to complete an action plan by June 2014 that includes a mapping system, showing where GMO and non-GMO crops are grown; and
•    convene a task force within the Department of Agriculture to develop draft legislation for statewide regulation of GMO crops in time for the 2015 legislative session.
Genetically Modified Crop Benefits
“Genetic engineering of crops is at least as safe as, and often safer than, conventional breeding, so there is no good reason for any state or local government to ban them,” said Gregory Conko, executive director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. 

“In fact, because the genetically engineered crops on the market today have delivered both health and environmental benefits, banning them would be foolish, risking harm to both consumers and the environment. So I am pleased that the Oregon legislature has passed the Certainty for Oregon Family Farmers Act,” Conko explained.

So Far, Bans Symbolic
“Most of the counties in the U.S. that have banned the cultivation of genetically engineered crops so far are not ones in which agriculture is an important industry,” Conko observed. “But with environmental activists pumping a huge amount of financial resources into scare campaigns, the popularity of anti-farmer and anti-consumer restrictions on genetically engineered crops is growing. So laws like the one just enacted in Oregon will become more and more important.” 

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]), is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.