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Jackson County Prevails in "No GMO Crop" Lawsuit

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that Jackson County's Ordinance 635 is legal. It gives farmers of crops from genetically-modified seeds one more harvest in the county, and then prohibits GMO crops from being planted. Credit: Mitesh Take/Morguefile.
A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that Jackson County's Ordinance 635 is legal. It gives farmers of crops from genetically-modified seeds one more harvest in the county, and then prohibits GMO crops from being planted. Credit: Mitesh Take/Morguefile.
June 2, 2015

MEDFORD, Ore. – A Jackson County ordinance prohibiting farming genetically-engineered crops in the county goes into effect as scheduled this Friday, June 5, after a court challenge to stop it has failed.

Two farms took their case to U.S. District Court late last year, saying they plant genetically-modified alfalfa and would have to destroy their crops under the new ordinance. Other farmers who support the ordinance intervened.

Elise Higley, director of the Our Family Farms Coalition, says part of the problem is that the county's narrow, windy valley isn't conducive to both types of farming, side by side.

"We want to see every farm succeed," says Higley. "But we realized early on, when we found GMOs were growing in our county, that traditional farmers were having to rip up their crops. And so, we really had to look at where we wanted the future of farming in Jackson County to be."

Higley, who is a farmer, explains organic farms can lose their organic certification if GMO plants are found in their harvest - and the chemical company that sells the GMO seed can sue them for having it without a contract.

In the decision, Judge Mark Clarke said the ruling isn't about the safety of genetically-engineered foods, but whether the county ordinance is legal – and in his analysis, it is.

The case seems to have intensified the rift between farmers who use seeds developed for higher yield, and those who are convinced organic farming is better for human health and the environment.

Both can cite studies that support their positions. But Higley says Jackson County voters made their preference clear when they passed Ordinance 635 with a two-thirds majority a year ago – which could be described as a different kind of conservatism.

"Having people be aware of where their food comes from and knowing their farmers," she explains. "Being aware of what's happening in the government, and making sure that we're protected against these chemical companies that are being very active, getting laws passed to protect them."

Under the new ordinance, Jackson County farmers can harvest this year's GMO crops, but won't be able to plant genetically-modified seeds after that, and would have to destroy any GMO crops within a year.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR