Keep GMO Ban, Defend Peoples’ Law

by Gregg Marchese

As has been reported, Jackson County is being sued by two GMO alfalfa farmers over the County’s Ordinance 635, the GMO crop ban passed this May by 66% of the voting citizens. The plaintiffs, Schulz Family Farms in Gold Hill, and James and Marilyn Frink in White City, are seeking damages for costs and losses under the County law, and to ‘permanently enjoin the enforcement of the ordinance’. They claim ‘Plaintiffs are entitled to an injunction maintaining the status quo by prohibiting the County from taking any action to implement or enforce the Ordinance.’

Jackson County is the defendant, but other groups and individuals have the legal right of intervention, if they are especially affected by the outcome of the lawsuit. That’s certainly the case here, and not just farmers. All citizens of Jackson County are affected by the spread of GMO’s and their associated toxic pesticides, and not just people and their children. Livestock, wildlife and the entire ecology can be harmed. Some will be filing for intervention, and this can only benefit the County, since legal costs can be supported by donations rather than the County general fund. Also, a better defense can be brought by people and groups who are more motivated, since they would be seriously harmed should the suit win.

It is public knowledge that Monsanto, Syngenta and other chemical companies are behind the suit. In a news release of November 18th from the attorneys filing the suit, Markowitz and Herbold, they say agriculture, farming and biotechnology organizations are assisting the suit. We know the likes of Monsanto and Syngenta have a business plan to displace other seed growers from our landscape and the world marketplace, but we the citizens want to protect our local small farmers and local economy from these transnational chemical corporations. The concerned citizens of Jackson County passed the GMO crop ban ordinance 635 to protect the people and lands here, and they don’t want it repealed under bullying by money-rich corporations. We defend our food, farms, health and future–more important forms of wealth–with this citizens’ initiative, and we insist it remain.

The ordinance cannot truly be applied for another 6 1/2 months, until June 2015, since farmers have until then–a 1 year grace period–to remove any offending GMO crops. We refuse any proposal of an injunction to put the ordinance on hold while the lawsuit plays out. This ordinance must stay in effect throughout the legal proceedings, and be applicable after June 6th, 2015, to remove any GMO crops that may remain in the County after the grace period. If Jackson County is exposed to the GMO model of farming once again while the lawsuit proceeds, the further spread of genetic drift could continue, one of the main things the ordinance is here to prevent. But we hope the lawsuit plays out expediently before June 6th, and is resolved in favor of Ordinance 635, the people’s law.

Together the plaintiffs seek $4.2 Million in damages, apart from compensation for legal costs. This number seems excessively high. The plaintiffs are claiming losses for 10 years, the maximum time alfalfa can produce from one planting. They claim they will not be able to plant alfalfa for 4 years after this crop is removed, plus other costs of removal and transition. This damages amount imposes such an unacceptable financial burden on the County that it would have to repeal the ordinance, should it lose.

Repeal of the ordinance is the real goal of Monsanto and Syngenta, not payment of damages. That is why the amount of damages is set so high; to frighten the County into believing that this suit would financially burden it, making the ordinance unpopular. ‘…permanently enjoin (prohibit) the enforcement of the ordinance’ is the second demand made in the lawsuit language, but is the primary goal.

Plaintiffs claim they are allowed to grow Roundup Ready (GMO) alfalfa under the State’s Right to Farm and Forestry Act. This is not a Right To Farm and Forestry issue however, but a Responsibility Not To Harm issue. The County ordinance being challenged is based on another pre-existing ordinance making it illegal for agriculture operations to spread harm to neighboring farms due to neglect or other harmful practices. Primarily the old ordinance was directed at pear orchards, from which if abandoned or misused, harm can spread in the form of disease, pests or cross-pollination to neighboring orchards. The same applies to gmo genetic drift, harming neighboring farms and burdening them with lost sales and remedial costs, if not outright bankruptcy.

The Right To Farm and Forestry law in Oregon was written to allow agriculture and forestry practices to continue in historic and traditional ways despite complaints of ‘nuisance’ (such as odors and noises) by new residences moving into areas historically devoted to agriculture and forestry. GMO genetic trespass is not a ‘nuisance’, it is harm, with profound financial, health and ecological consequences not just to farmers, but to all of Jackson County’s many residents, including those of the natural world.

This lawsuit comes as recent news reveals that China, a huge export market for US farm goods, including Oregon’s, has set strict standards to prevent importing any gmo-contaminated goods. Even the suggestion of gmo contamination means China will reject shipments, as has been done recently. Lawsuits from non-gmo growers are mounting, with farmers suing Syngenta for $1B in lost sales of corn, and Archers-Daniels-Midland, the world’s largest grain merchant, suing for even huger sums. Other large nations such as Russia are rejecting gmo-contaminated farm goods as well. We don’t want Jackson County farmers to be forced to file lawsuits to recoup losses from closing export markets. That would hurt our local economy. Uphold Ordinance 635, and rather than a liability, Jackson County non-GMO corn and alfalfa farmers will have a distinct advantage in foreign markets increasingly eager for non-GMO goods.

We know two members of the County Commission will be gone in the new year, but we expect the new County Commissioners as well to cooperate with any Interveners, and to uphold their responsibilities as our elected officials. We are the 66% who passed Ordinance 635 into law, and we want it to remain.

Let us remember, this lawsuit is just a small part of a world-wide take-over of seed and agriculture by a small cartel of chemical companies. Syngenta was the operator in Jackson County until our voters ejected it, but Syngenta is allied so closely with the 5 other major chemical/GMO corporations, of which Monsanto is the most notorious, that they may as well be one trans-national corporate force. Together they own over 75% and growing of the world’s commercial seed supply.

Anyone who doubts the wide scope and scale of this force need only read the statement Monsanto made immediately after the County of Maui, Hawaii passed a citizens’ initiative this November, declaring a moratorium on the growing of GMO’s until further testing can determine safety:

…we are concerned about the passage of this initiative and the impact it could have on the community and farming in (the State). While we understand that people of (the) County have concerns about GMOs, we are confident in the safety of our products and practices that have been reviewed and approved by federal and state agencies.

We believe this referendum is invalid and contrary to long established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful testing and planting of GMO plants. If effective, the referendum will have significant negative consequences for the local economy, (state) agriculture and our business (in the region). …we take steps to ask the court to declare that this initiative is legally flawed and cannot be enforced. Monsanto and other allied parties will be joining together in this effort.

The chemical companies are doing the same in Jackson County, the state of Vermont, and many other jurisdictions around the world. They do so with the cooperation and complicity of government agencies and bodies devoted to the chemical company agenda.

Our County Council is elected to protect the rights and well-being of the residents of Jackson County, but if given the choice between upholding this ordinance and paying $4.2M, the Council will have to declare that the cost is just too high. The ordinance which 66% of voters agreed on, and many concerned citizens worked hard on throughout a lengthy initiative process and campaign, could be declared null and void.

And then we will see the escalation of toxic GMO’s and their associated poisonous chemicals throughout Jackson County. Some 30 new GMO’s are already awaiting approval, with more to follow, including the even more controversial dsRNA technology. That will presage the end of small family farmers here, as toxic trespass burdens already-marginal farms with further costs and challenges.

 

Our Family Farms Coalition, the political action committee which along with other groups of concerned citizens oversaw the campaign to pass ordinance 635 into law, is planning intervention in legal defense. The County Council might be reluctant to even spend much of County funds on legal defense, so once again citizens must take up defense of our county from toxic GMO/chemical companies seeking to impose their will.

We will not have it. The people of Jackson County voted in a free and fair election to ban the growing of GMO crops, and rightly so. We cannot let outside chemical companies, and compliant or at least dormant local government, overturn the will of the people. Back in May, locals won out over multi-nationals, and people over money. That must remain.

We are the 66%.

We can all once again contribute to the defense and be a part of the historic movement:

  • Or  to make your contribution tax deductible, send a check to the Center  for Food Safety and mark “Jackson County suit” in the memo line.   Your contribution will go directly to support this case. Please make  checks payable to:
    Center for Food Safety
    303 Sacramento     St, 2nd floor
    San Francisco, CA 94111