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GMO ban is legal under state law

A federal judge in Medford Friday ruled an impending ban on genetically modified crops in Jackson County is legal under state law.

Bruce Schulz of Gold Hill and James and Marilyn Frink of Sams Valley had filed suit against the county in December 2014, arguing the county's GMO ban would cause them undue financial hardship and violated their constitutional rights. The ordinance, passed by voters in May 2014, allows farmers currently growing GMO crops to harvest them this season but requires them to remove all genetically modified crops within 12 months.

A group of anti-GMO farmers calling themselves Our Family Farms Coalition joined the case as defendants in February after Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke ruled they had standing and could be impacted by a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.

In an 11-page ruling granting the defendants a partial summary judgment, Clarke wrote that the case raised important questions about food safety and scarcity on a global level. "The court's decision today, however, does not attempt to answer any of these complex and difficult questions," Clarke wrote. "Today's decision is simply about the statutory construction of the Right to Farm Act, Jackson County Ordinance 635 and Oregon Senate Bill 863."

Clarke said that since the Senate bill, which delegated regulation of GMOs to the state, made specific provisions for Jackson County's ordinance, the law was well within the provisions and intent of the state's Right to Farm Act, which he said was intended to prevent encroachment on or damage to commercial farms by outside interests and allows farmers to make claims for damages to their crops. 

Attempts to reach the plaintiffs for comment late Friday were unsuccessful.

"We were really pleased with the decision," said Elise Higley, an Applegate-area farmer and member of the Our Family Farms Coalition, while adding that proponents of the ban still need to be prepared for further proceedings and possible appeals. Higley pointed out that Clarke still has yet to rule on whether the county's ban constitutes undue deprivation of property to the plaintiffs. 

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.