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Benton County "Local Food System Ordinance" Genetically Modified Organism Ban, Measure 2-89 (May 2015)

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A Benton County Genetically Modified Organism Ban, Measure 2-89, also known as the Benton County Local Food System Ordinance, is on the May 19, 2015 election ballot for voters in Benton County, Oregon.

If approved, this measure, which is backed by what supporters are calling the Benton Food Freedom campaign, would prohibit the cultivation of genetically modified organisms in the county.[1]

The initiative also includes a clause that asserts the county's right to self-governance, seeking a way around the state law passed in 2013 attempting to preclude initiatives such as this one.[2]

Proponents had originally planned to try to put this measure on the November 2014 ballot but decided to postpone the initiative until 2015.[3]

Supporters of the GMO ban argue that GMOs can cause health problems and have not been studied thoroughly enough to be certain there is not long-term harmful effects. They also argue that because of pollination from wind, insects and other natural agents, the rights of organic, GMO-free farmers are being violated by cross-pollination from neighboring GMO farms, which results in contaminated crops that can no longer be used or sold as organic or GMO-free. From an economic perspective, supporters point to the many countries that ban importation of certain GMO products and claim that making Benton County an all organic, GMO-free farming zone will actually allow farmers to thrive because there is a strong demand for GMO-guaranteed food products. They argue that the "Local Food System Ordinance" will allow the county farmers to grow healthy, natural food and enter the thriving and growing organic food market.[4][5]

Opponents of this measure prominently feature large bio-chemical agriculture businesses such as Monsanto and DowAgroSciences LLC, as well as the many farmers, both large and small, that use the products created by such companies. Opponents argue that farmers should have the right to grow whatever crops they wish on their own property and that the commonly used genetically altered products have been proved to be harmless to humans. They also argue that eliminating the mainstream crop sources will make farming more expensive and hurt the agriculture industry in the county. Opponents also argue that this issue is best controlled on a state level, rather than a local one, and that an initiative such as Measure 2-89 is likely to face expensive lawsuits and possibly judicial overruling.[6]

These companies have a track record of providing large amounts of money to fund campaigns against initiatives such as Measure 2-89. The opposition campaign spend nearly a million dollars in Jackson County against Measure 15-119 and over $7 million in Maui County, Hawaii, much of which came from large companies such as Monsanto.

Text of measure

Ballot language

The following is the language that was approved to be circulated and put on the ballot:[7]

Caption:
Creates rights relating to agriculture and prohibits genetically engineered organisms

Question:
Should voters enact an ordinance prohibiting cultivation of genetically engineered organisms and creating rights relating to local food production?

Summary:
Enactment of measure establishes: Right to Local Food System, Right to Seed Heritage, Rights of Natural Communities (including right of terrestrial and aquatic systems to exist, persist and maintain themselves), Right to Self-Government. Rights established are self-executing.

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.[8]

Full text

The first section of the full ordinance, entitled "Findings and intent," reads as follows:[1]

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:[8]

The full text of the initiative is available on the Benton Food Freedom website.[1][5]

Support

BentonSupportLogo.jpg

Supporters

The Benton County Community Rights Coalition was the group behind the campaign for this initiative, which its members are calling the Benton Food Freedom campaign.[4]

An official "Yes on 2-89" campaign was also started.[5] This group was started by local organic farmers including:[9]

  • Harry MacCormack
  • Clint Lindsey
  • Dana Allen

An organization called GMO Free Oregon is also supportive of all the proposed initiatives to ban GMOs in Oregon.[10]

BFFLogo.jpg

Summary

The following summary of the initiative and its intentions was given by its supporters:[5]

Measure 2-89 would establish and maintain a sustainable local food system in Benton County, Oregon, by:

Elevating community rights above those claimed by corporations, patent holders, and the State of Oregon regarding a GMO-free local food system;

Securing rights for natural communities (e.g. soil, water, pollinators) to exist and flourish;

Protecting locally grown heritage seed from contamination by GMO and other patented technologies; and

Establishing legal standing of a local food system for present and future food security.[8]

Benton Food Freedom[5]

Arguments in favor

FAQs

The Benton Food Freedom group produced a frequently asked questions document supporting Measure 2-89 and answering some objections. A portion of the document is displayed below:[11]

What will Measure 2-89 do?

Measure 2-89 – Local Food System Ordinance of Benton County, Oregon – will protect our right to a local food system, one free from GMO contamination and our right to seed heritage, in order to protect the future of food production for us and those who depend on the food grown in Benton County to be healthy. It would place our community rights over so-called corporate “rights”.

Didn't the state government preempt counties from banning GMOs?

No. The state is attempting, illegitimately, to claim through a new preemptive law to override our right to local, community self-government which includes our right to protect and determine the future of our local food system including prohibiting harmful agriculture like GMOs. Measure 02-89 is founded on rights and would not recognize state preemption if used to violate the community rights of Benton County.

What happens when the GMO patent holders sue Benton County?

If a lawsuit comes it will most likely be from corporate interests unwilling to recognize the will of the people in adopting Measure 2-89. The corporate interests will assert that they have greater “rights” to engage with GMOs than the people have the right to reject GMOs on the grounds of protecting the local food system. A lawsuit will pit community rights against corporate power, and most importantly our right to determine the future of our local food system.

Why shouldn't farmers have a right to plant whatever they want?

For the same reason you can't pour any chemical you want into a stream. Farmers share the same environment and genetic drift from one field can impact those around it. Willamette Valley farmers have traditionally cooperated to avoid drift problems, but GMO corporations don't respect such convention. GMOs, and the higher pesticide use that come with them, cannot coexist with conventional and organic seed. Most importantly, there is no need for harmful GMO seed.

If you don't like GMOs, you don't have to eat them. Why go after GMOs?

GMOs are the biggest threat to local food systems all over the world. GMOs are not safe for people, require higher use of toxic pesticides, do not yield more crops per acre, threaten our local seed stock heritage, centralize agricultural practices that eliminate natural diversity and economically indenture local farmers, and are harmful to the environment. Measure 2-89 is about the people of Benton County choosing to protect our local food system from GMOs not be allowed to be controlled and harmed by them.[8]

Opposition

Opponents

In other places featuring similar ballot measures, such as Jackson and Josephine counties in Oregon, Humboldt County in California and Maui County in Hawaii, large bio-chemical agriculture companies such as Monsanto and DowAgroScience LLC were the most active and outspoken opponents and the most lavish donors to the opposition campaigns. Similar opposition is expected in Benton County.

Arguments against

Opponents of this measure argue that this issue should be handled on the state level and that, even if approved, this measure might simply lead to expensive lawsuits that could ultimately just overturn the measure. Opponents also argue that the measure might harm the agriculture industry by restricting all of the farmers that use GMO crops such as the crops provided by Monsanto.[6]

Editorials

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. [8]

The Albany Democrat-Herald editorial board[6]

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 2014 court ruling, however, stated 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 activists in Benton, Josephine and Lane Counties moved forward with their proposed measures.[12]

This GMO-banning initiative seeks to subvert SB 863 by including a clause that asserts the county's right to self-government, nullifying the state law.[2]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in Oregon

The "Local Food System Ordinance" initiative 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.[9]

After fighting through several lawsuits described below, initiative petitioners John Booker Jr., Cheri Clark and Dana Allen turned in 3,078 signatures to the county elections office on December 16, 2014. According to Elections Supervisor Jeff Doty, the group needed 2,171 of these signatures to be valid, a number determined by 6 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Doty, after investigating the submitted petition sheets, found 2,658 valid signatures, allowing the initiative on the May ballot by a comfortable margin.[3][13]

Lawsuits

When the initiative was originally rejected by the county clerk, the initiative proponents brought the issue to court 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. Although originally targeting the November 2014 election, petitioners decided to postpone the initiative until a 2015 election.[9][14][15]

Ballot language changes

When Judge Donohue made a decision on the ballot language lawsuit, 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."[14]

The full changes are highlighted below:

Original text

The following is the original ballot language:[16]

Caption:
Measure to Establish a Local Food System Ordinance

Question:
Should Benton County voters enact a Local Food System Ordinance?

Summary:
Enactment of this measure would establish protections for the following: Right to Local Food System, Right to Seed Heritage, Rights of Natural Communities (including the right of terrestrial and aquatic systems to exist, persist and maintain themselves), Right to Self-Government and Self-Executing Rights.

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.[8]




Final text

The following is the language that was approved to be circulated and put on the ballot:[7]

Caption:
Creates rights relating to agriculture and prohibits genetically engineered organisms

Question:
Should voters enact an ordinance prohibiting cultivation of genetically engineered organisms and creating rights relating to local food production?

Summary:
Enactment of measure establishes: Right to Local Food System, Right to Seed Heritage, Rights of Natural Communities (including right of terrestrial and aquatic systems to exist, persist and maintain themselves), Right to Self-Government. Rights established are self-executing.

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.[8]

Similar measures

See also: Local GMO on the ballot

Local bans

  • Benton County "Local Food System Ordinance" Genetically Modified Organism Ban, Measure 2-89 (May 2015)

2014

Approveda Maui County Genetically Modified Organism Moratorium Initiative (November 2014)
Approveda Humboldt County "Genetic Contamination Prevention Ordinance" GMO Ban Initiative, Measure P (November 2014)
Approveda Jackson County Genetically Modified Organism Ban, Measure 15-119 (May 2014)
Approveda Josephine County Genetically Modified Organism Ban, Measure 17-58 (May 2014)
Proposed ballot measures that were not on a ballot Lane County Genetically Modified Organism Ban (2014)

Statewide labeling measures

Defeatedd Colorado Mandatory Labeling of GMOs Initiative (2014)
Defeatedd Oregon Mandatory Labeling of GMOs Initiative (2014)
Defeatedd California Proposition 37, Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food (2012)
Defeatedd Oregon Labeling of Genetically-Engineered Foods, Measure 27 (2002)
Defeatedd Washington Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Measure, Initiative 522 (2013)


See also

External links

BP-Initials-UPDATED.png
Suggest a link

Basic info

Support

Additional reading

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Benton County Community Rights Coalition website, "Ordinance Text," accessed March 11, 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 Statesman Journal, "Battle over GMOs continues in Oregon," January 9, 2015
  3. 3.0 3.1 Gazette-Times, "Local GMO ban aims for May ballot," December 16, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 Benton County Community Rights Coalition website, accessed March 11, 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Yes on 2-89 website, "Benton Food Freedom," accessed January 15, 2015
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Albany Democrat-Herald, "Editorial: Benton's GMO ordinance might not pan out," April 21, 2014
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ballotpedia Staff Writer Josh Altic, "Email correspondence with Benton County elections office," April 22, 2014
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Corvallis Advocate, "Will Benton County Say No to GMOs?" February 13, 2014
  10. GMO Free Oregon website, accessed March 11, 2014
  11. Benton Food Freedom website, "Frequently Asked Questions," accessed January 16, 2015
  12. The Oregonian, "GMO bill clears Oregon Senate (2013 special session)," October 2, 2013
  13. Gazette Times, "Anti-GMO measure qualifies for May ballot," January 5, 2015
  14. 14.0 14.1 Covallis Gazette-Times, "Anti-GMO measure could go to Benton voters," April 17, 2014
  15. Corvallis Gazette-Times, "Anti-GMO ballot measure back in court," April 5, 2014
  16. Benton County Government website, Original "Notice of Receipt of Ballot Title," archived April 21, 2014