Update on Josephine County GMO laws
Grants Pass, OR. —First, I wish to thank NewsWithViews for allowing me to submit occasional articles regarding important legal issues that impact our community. I won’t have enough material for monthly submissions, but from time to time I intend to discuss matters that I think will be of interest. Additionally, I welcome questions at [email protected] if you are wondering about something in particular.
Lately there has been a lot of renewed discussion in the local and national media about the laws regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Therefore, it is worth taking a look at the legal landscape surrounding this topic.
On March 26, 2013, President Barak Obama signed H.R. 933. The bill contained a contentious provision, Section 735 that allowed cultivators of GMOs to continue operating while legal challenges regarding the safety of those crops were being decided. This was probably done in response to a 2010 case in which a federal judge in San Francisco effectively banned the future planting of GMO sugar beets. The bill expired on September 30, 2013, but the debate about GMOs endured.
In the wake H.R. 933, some states, counties and citizens quickly set about creating laws that pertained to GMOs. In October, 2013, Oregon’s legislature and governor passed a bill that designated the state government as the level at which GMO seeds and crops could be regulated. At the time of the Oregon bill’s passage, a citizen’s group in Jackson County was known to have initiated a petition to pass an ordinance that prohibited GMOs there. Jackson County was therefore carved out of the Oregon bill.
Also in 2013, a group of Josephine County citizens initiated a petition to ban GMOs. Like the Jackson County petition, the Josephine County petition received enough signatures to appear before the voters in the May 20, 2014 election. The GMO ordinance received 16,137 votes (58.25%) out of 27,701 cast and went into effect upon passage.
Josephine County’s GMO ordinance declares that it is unlawful to propagate, cultivate, raise, or grow GMOs here, or to knowingly or negligently allow such activities to occur on one’s land, except for purposes of research. The ordinance also says that the Board of County Commissioners may designate a Code Enforcement Officer to administer and enforce its provisions. To date, the county has not opted to appoint a person to that specific post.
The ordinance states that the Code Enforcement Officer may take necessary actions required by law (such as obtaining a search warrant) to obtain access to private property. In accordance with due process, the official can collect samples of materials that are suspected to be GMO. Any GMOs the official finds may be confiscated, quarantined, and destroyed in accordance with due process. The cost of doing so may be imposed on the responsible parties.
On April 29, 2015, the Board of County Commissioners assigned ordinance number 2014-007 to the measure that was passed by the voters. The measure requires the county to make reasonable efforts to provide initial notification of the ordinance to farming operations within Josephine County. The Board therefore sent this notification (hyperlink to the notification) to the Grants Pass Daily Courier, the Illinois Valley News, and to the granges. The notice requires anyone who is currently growing GMOs to report their activities to the Sheriff before September 4, 2015.
Currently, Congress is considering H.R. 1599. The official bill summary states in part, “This bill preempts state and local restrictions on GMOs or GMO food and labeling requirements for GMOs, GMO food, non-GMO food, or “natural” food.” Preempt means “prevent”. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 23, 2015, and is now in the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
As your county legal counsel I will continue to stay on top of the laws surrounding GMO. Contact me any time at the courthouse if you wish to discuss this issue further.
1 – Making Deception the Law of the Land
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