Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would let farmers sue Monsanto, Scotts Miracle-Gro and other companies that hold patents on genetically engineered seeds if crops grown from those seeds contaminate traditional or organic crops.
Cross-contamination from GE crops can make other crops worthless, and can ruin seed lines that have taken decades to develop, farmers told the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Genetically engineered crops also can escape their fields and become pests that are hard to eradicate – something that’s happened with Scotts’ genetically modified bentgrass, which now threatens Oregon’s billion-dollar grass seed industry.
“Where there is harm or damage, there needs to be a remedy,” said Sandra Bishop of Our Family Farms, a Medford-based nonprofit that advocates for traditional seed crops.
House Bill 2739 would allow landowners to seek three times actual economic damages if GE organisms are present on their land without permission.
It also would allow individuals to sue the corporations if GE organisms are found on land owned or occupied by a public body, such as a park, in the area where they live.
Opponents said allowing such lawsuits would stifle innovation.
“Without innovation, on my farm I’d probably still be using the back end of a mule for a compass,” Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue said. “Does Oregon really want to be known as a technological desert?”
Also on Thursday, lawmakers considered a bill that would restore local control over genetically engineered crops.
In 2013, the Legislature passed a bill banning local governments from regulating crops or seeds. It exempted Jackson County, which already had a bill to ban GE crops on the ballot.
At the time, then-Gov. John Kitzhaber promised a state-level solution to the problem of GE crops contaminating conventional and organic crops.
That hasn’t happened, the bill’s proponents told the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“We were sort of led to believe that cross-contamination would somehow be addressed through the Department of Agriculture,” said Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, who co-sponsored the bill.
“If the state isn’t going to figure out a way to have some GMO free zones to help protect this thriving part of the agriculture industry … I think we ought to allow local government to have that control,” Holvey said.
House Bill 2469 would again allow local jurisdictions to ban GE crops. It also would allow a ban on GE crops that was approved by Josephine County voters in 2014 to take effect.
Opponents of both the bills said neighboring farmers should be able to work together voluntarily and collaboratively to solve those problems.
“Co-existence does and has worked in Oregon,” said Scott Dahlman, policy director for Oregonians for Food & Shelter.
Proponents said that doesn’t work when the farm next door is leased to a multinational corporation or farmers are bound by contracts with those corporations.
Neither bill moved out of committee Thursday.
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