Benton County Genetically Modified Organism Ban (2014)
|Not on ballot|
- 1 Text of measure
- 2 Support
- 3 Opposition
- 4 Relevant state laws
- 5 Path to the ballot
- 6 Similar measures
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
- 9 Additional reading
- 10 References
A group of local organic farmers called Benton County Community Rights Coalition, including the leaders Harry MacCormack, Clint Lindsey and Dana Allen, filed a petition for an initiative ordinance that, if approved, would ban the production of genetically modified organisms in the county of Benton. This ordinance was originally rejected by the county clerk on the grounds that it was too broad and violated the single subject rule, which requires initiative ordinances to be contained to one issue or subject matter.
The issue was brought to court by the initiative proponents and, on January 31, 2014, Benton County Circuit Court Judge Locke Williams ruled that the initiative passed a preliminary set of requirements. A little over a month later, in March of 2014, Judge Williams ultimately ruled in favor of the initiative. Backers then faced legal challenges to the ballot title and summary, consisting by Oregon law of a 10-word caption, a 20-word question and a 175-word summary. This lawsuit needed to be settled before the signature collection could begin. In mid-April, Circuit Court Judge Matt Donohue finalized several changes to the ballot title and summary, clearing the initiative for circulation.
Text of measure
The first section of the ordinance, entitled "Findings and intent," reads as follows:
Section 1. Findings and Intent
We the people of Benton County have the inalienable right to grow, raise, rear, access, harvest, preserve, process, exchange, and consume – both individually and collectively – whole food and food products from a local food system.
We the people of Benton County find that our right to a local food system is essential to the well-being of the County’s residents and natural communities, as well as the health, resilience, and flourishing of the local economy, of which local agriculture plays a vital role.
We the people of Benton County have the right to a local food system and seed heritage that does not harm the right of natural communities to exist, persist, and flourish; adapts to local growing conditions; promotes biodiversity, resilience, and productivity; and provides for the social, equitable, nutritional, economic, and cultural enhancement of the quality of life for all residents of Benton County.
We the people of Benton County find that the civil right to grow, save, preserve, protect, harvest, adapt, and distribute open pollinated seeds, which is the foundation of all agriculture, is required – both individually and collectively – to secure the peoples’ commonly held seed heritage and right to a local food system.
We the people of Benton County find that the patenting and ownership of seeds and other self-replicating life forms used for the growing, rearing, or raising of food is a direct threat to our inalienable right – both individually and collectively – to grow, save, preserve, protect, harvest, adapt, and distribute seed to grow food and produce food products from one generation to another within Benton County.
We the people of Benton County find that the patenting and privatization of seeds that have been genetically modified interferes with the diversity of and access to the people’s seed heritage, reduces the people’s ability to save, replant, and adapt open pollinated seeds free of contamination, limits research and development of seeds and other life forms adapted to local growing conditions and soils that meet the economic and nutritional needs of the community, and encourages the use of genetically modified or altered life forms which pose significant risks to natural communities and farmer livelihoods through irreversible contamination of crops and related species.
We the people of Benton County understand that any attempt to prohibit the privatization and use of patented seed may run afoul of claimed corporate “rights” to engage in those practices, as well as State or federal laws. We understand that failure to legislatively challenge those “rights” and laws guarantees that a local food system will never exist.
We the people of Benton County therefore enact this local law pursuant to the inherent and inalienable right of the residents of Benton County to govern their own county for their own health, safety, and welfare. That authority is also secured by the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that governments are instituted to secure the rights of people, in the State Constitution of Oregon’s recognition that all power is inherent in the people, and in the Benton County Charter, which delegates the authority to the people and their representatives to enact local legislation on matters of county concern;
Therefore, through this Ordinance, which shall be known and cited as the “Local Food System Ordinance of Benton County, Oregon”, the people of Benton County ordain as follows:
The full text of the initiative is available on the BCCRC website.
The Benton County Community Rights Coalition is the group behind this initiative.
This group was started by local organic farmers including:
- Harry MacCormack
- Clint Lindsey
- Dana Allen
An organization called GMO Free Oregon also supports all four 2014 local measures seeking to ban GMOs in Oregon.
- The Albany Democrat Herald editorial board wrote an article critiquing the GMO prohibiting initiative. Besides critiquing the provisions of the measure itself, the editorial claimed that, even if the measure passes, it will likely face lawsuits based on state legislation against such county governance on agricultural issues. The board wrote:
More seriously, as we’ve argued in the past, this is a matter that is better handled at the state level; farms aren’t necessarily limited by county lines, and saddling farmers with a crazy quilt of regulations that vary from county to county doesn’t seem like sound agricultural policy.
And we remain unconvinced about the value of submitting to Benton County voters a ballot measure that may turn out, after the inevitable lawsuits, to be little more than a straw vote about the merits of GMO crops. But that’s the call that Benton County voters almost certainly will get to make for themselves in November. 
—The Albany Democrat-Herald editorial board
Relevant state laws
On October 3, 2013, Oregon legislators, in a 17-12 vote, approved Senate Bill 863, which prohibits Oregon counties other than Jackson County from regulating or banning genetically modified organisms. SB 863 claimed an emergency status in order to preclude efforts against GMOs in Benton and Lane counties. A recent court ruling, however, states that SB 863 cannot be used to keep initiatives off the ballot. It may be the source of a court battle if initiatives concerning agriculture regulation are approved, but, in the meantime, Benton, Josephine and Lane County activists are moving forward with their proposed measures.
Path to the ballot
The proposed GMO ban survived its first lawsuit against those who claimed that the measure violated the single subject rule and was not unified or specific enough in its intent, purpose and execution. Originally the county clerk rejected the initiative on these grounds, but the issue was brought to court by the initiative proponents and, on January 31, 2014, Benton County Circuit Court Judge Locke Williams ruled that the initiative passed a preliminary set of requirements. A little over a month later, in March of 2014, Judge Williams officially ruled in favor of the initiative. Backers then faced legal challenges to the ballot title and summary, consisting by Oregon law of a 10-word caption, a 20-word question and a 175-word summary. This lawsuit needed to be settled before the signature collection could begin. Plaintiffs argued that the ballot title that was certified by the district attorney did not adequately explain the far reaching scope and effects of the initiative. In mid-April, Circuit Court Judge Matt Donohue finalized several changes to the ballot title and summary, clearing the initiative for circulation.
Among other changes to the measure's caption, ballot question and summary, Judge Donohue amended the caption to read “Creates rights relating to agriculture and prohibits genetically engineered organisms" instead of “A measure establishing a Local Food System Ordinance."
The full changes are highlighted below.
Changes in Ballot Language
The court ruling by Judge Donohue made the following changes to the ballot caption, question and summary:
The following is the original ballot language:
The measure would prohibit any corporation or government from using genetically engineered organisms; make it unlawful for any corporation or government to plant trans-genetic risk seed in Benton County unless such seed has been proven to be free of any traces of genetic modification; and eliminate personal liability to any corporation claiming seed patent or ownership rights or claiming loss of income or commercial infringement resulting from inadvertent infection of agricultural crops by genetically engineered organisms or other patented traits. Measure would require harvest, removal or destruction of genetically engineered organisms within 90 days of enactment.
Standing to enforce the measure would be limited to the county and individuals. The measure would curtail corporate rights inconsistent with measure's provisions. The measure would also repeal inconsistent provisions of Benton County Code.
The following is the language that will be circulated and put on the ballot:
Measure prohibits corporations or government from using genetically engineered organisms; prohibits corporations or government from planting transgenetic risk seed in County unless seek is proven to be free of any genetic modifications. Measure prohibits corporations and government from requiring registration or patenting of certain seeds. Violation of prohibitions is subject to civil and criminal penalties.
Measure eliminates personal liability to any corporation claiming seed patent or ownership rights or claiming loss of income or commercial infringement resulting from inadvertent infection of agricultural crops by genetically engineered organisms or other patented traits. Measure would require harvest, removal, or destruction of genetically engineered organisms within 90 days of enactment.
Measure could be enforced by the county and individuals. Measure repeals inconsistent provisions of County Code and pre-empts state and federal law inconsistent with rights or prohibitions of measure.
- See also: Local GMO on the ballot
- Maui County Genetically Modified Organism Ban Initiative (November 2014)
- Humboldt County "Genetic Contamination Prevention Ordinance" GMO Ban Initiative, Measure P (November 2014)
- Benton County Genetically Modified Organism Ban (2014)
- Lane County Genetically Modified Organism Ban (2014)
Statewide labeling measures
- Colorado Mandatory Labeling of GMOs Initiative (2014)
- Oregon Mandatory Labeling of GMOs Initiative (2014)
California Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food (2012)
Oregon Labeling of Genetically-Engineered Foods, Measure 27 (2002)
Washington Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Measure, Initiative 522 (2013)
- Eugene Weekly, "Lane County Fight Continues Over GMOs," March 6, 2014
- Growers for Biotechnology, "Lane County clerk rejects GMO initiative," July 24, 2014
- Corvallis Advocate, "Will Benton County Say No to GMOs?" February 13, 2014
- Covallis Gazette-Times, "Anti-GMO measure could go to Benton voters," April 17, 2014
- Corvallis Gazette-Times, "Anti-GMO ballot measure back in court," April 5, 2014
- Benton County Community Rights Coalition website, "Ordinance Text," accessed March 11, 2014
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- Benton County Community Rights Coalition website, accessed March 11, 2014
- GMO Free Oregon website, accessed March 11, 2014
- Albany Democrat-Herald, "Editorial: Benton's GMO ordinance might not pan out," April 21, 2014
- The Oregonian, "GMO bill clears Oregon Senate (2013 special session)," October 2, 2013
- Benton County Government website, Original "Notice of Receipt of Ballot Title," archived April 21, 2014
- Ballotpedia Staff Writer Josh Altic, "Email correspondence with Benton County elections office," April 22, 2014