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Anti-GMO groups oppose House bills

Anti-biotech supporters in Salem Monday protested what they see as two new threats to organic and local farmers.

“We’re trying to protect the little guy,” said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland.

Buckley, along with other local anti-GMO supporters, said he hopes House bills 2509 and 3212 are amended or defeated because of the potential damage they could do to small farmers against large corporations that want to grow GMO (genetically modified organisms) crops.

House Bill 2509 was originally drafted to help farmers deal with the threat of large corporations and grew out of concerns over biotech farmers not agreeing to mediation. But after an analysis of the bill, small farmers argue they should not be forced into mediation if they are harmed by biotech cross-pollination.

Buckley said the original intent of HB 2509 was to provide smaller farmers with a way to deal with issues without going to court. But small farmers say the bill is rigged against them because of the greater legal clout from the large corporations, Buckley said.

House Bill 3212 would make the government body responsible for a land-use regulation liable for a landowner’s loss as a result of that legislation. In Jackson County, farmers who destroy their GMO crops could theoretically seek reimbursement from the county government.

“This is a bad bill,” Buckley said. “Why is this bill needed?”

Buckley said he hopes the bill can be amended to address the concerns of small farmers.

Ashland resident Ray Seidler, a former EPA scientist in charge of biosafety research, said his focus has been to defeat HB 3212.

“I think it’s more designed for big ag to squash traditional farmers,” he said.

Seidler, who was a proponent of Jackson County’s anti-GMO ordinance, was scheduled to speak at the Capitol Monday but decided not to make the drive after a hearing on HB 3212 was rescheduled for Wednesday.

Seidler said the bill could affect this area, particularly if GMO farmers argue the Jackson County ordinance takes away their profits.

“Anyone in Jackson County, any aggrieved GMO farmers, could say their yields could be bigger and that this ordinance injured them financially,” Seidler said.

The anti-GMO ordinance takes effect June 5, though farmers have a year to get rid of GMO crops.

Under HB 3212 as it’s presently written, farmers can get compensation for crops lost as a result of local legislation back to 2010, Seidler said.

Jackson County voters approved a countywide GMO ban in May 2014.

Bruce Schulz of Gold Hill and James and Marilyn Frink of Sams Valley 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.

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 affected by a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.

Clarke ruled last Friday that the county’s anti-GMO ordinance is legal under state law, though an appeal is likely.

Elise Higley with Our Family Farms Coalition said her organization plans to go to Salem Wednesday.

She said she understands the House bills might be amended to exclude Jackson County, but she’s not taking that for granted.

Higley said farmers in this area are concerned about farmers throughout the state and are voicing their dissent over any efforts that could give biotech companies the upper hand over small farms.

“It’s to benefit the big chemical companies,” she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.