Even though the state of Oregon enacted a law to override the ability of localities to regulate their own food systems, local ballot measures to ban GMO crops passed overwhelmingly in Jackson and Josephine Counties on May 20, according to news reports. “We fought the most powerful and influential chemical companies in the world and we won,” Elise Higley, a local farmer with the anti-GMO group Our Family Farms Coalition, told The Oregonian.
In a special session called for late September and early October 2013 to address Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System and education funding, legislators jammed through a bill that preempts Oregon counties from regulating their own agriculture and seeds.
The law, which Arkin and other critics call the “Monsanto Protection Act,” is eerily similar to a piece of “model” legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The effort to block local democratic control of food issues in Oregon began after family farmers and sustainable food advocates in Jackson County gathered enough signatures in January 2013 to put a local GMO ban on the ballot in the spring of 2014.
“All of a sudden, there was tremendous activity in Salem,” says Oregon state Representative Peter Buckley (D-Ashland). Lobbying groups for agricultural interests, he added, “became very active. They immediately put a statewide preemption bill onto the legislative agenda.”
At the time of ALEC’s fortieth Anniversary Annual Meeting in Chicago in August 2013, Oregon state Representative Sal Esquivel (R-Medford) and Jeff Case, senior director of government affairs at CropLife America, a national pesticide and GMO industry trade group, were the co-chairs of the Agriculture Subcommittee of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. Case said he “couldn’t remember” who sponsored it, but it was “probably” one of the Oregon legislators.
In last-minute negotiations, Buckley was able to insert an exemption into the bill for his district, Jackson County, so that its ballot initiative to ban the growth of GMOs in the region remains on the ballot later this spring. All six of the world’s biggest pesticide and GMO companies—BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta—donated $455,000 to the effort to overturn the ballot initiative. Buckley said it was “more than eight times more” than any other county ballot measure has ever received.
As Kai Huschke, a local organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, notes, “We don’t really have a food issue problem as much as we have a democracy problem.”