Farmers Fight Ban on Genetic Engineering | Courthouse News Service
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Farmers Fight Ban on Genetic Engineering

MEDFORD, Ore. (CN) - Alfalfa farmers in southern Oregon sued Jackson County for $4.2 million, for crops they may have to destroy because of the county ban on genetically engineered plants.

Alternatively, the farmers want the GE crop ban overturned.

Jackson County residents voted in May to ban growing of GE crops.

Jackson County is in southern Oregon. Its county seat is Medford.

Many large-scale farming operations use Roundup Ready crops made by Monsanto. Roundup Ready crops tolerate glyphosate, a toxic ingredient in the herbicide Roundup.

Lead plaintiffs Schulz Family Farms has more than 100 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa which they primarily sell for feeding horses and goats. They estimate the value of their alfalfa crop this year at $2 million.

Plaintiffs James and Marilyn Frink grow 200 acres of the GE alfalfa, which they planted before the Jackson County ordinance passed. They say their alfalfa crop is worth $2.2 million.

Both say they have customers waiting to buy their entire alfalfa crops.

Destruction of their crops would be an unconstitutional taking without just compensation, the farmers say.

After harvesting Roundup Ready alfalfa, it is recommended that the fields be kept out of alfalfa production for four years.

In addition, the county ordinance violates Oregon's Right to Farm Act, the farmers say.

The state law prohibits "nuisance," and the county ordinance says a violation of the ban on GE crops "shall not be construed to mean a nuisance" under the state law.

"But the ordinance is a nuisance ordinance in substance; trying to recharacterize or disguise it as something else does not make it so," the complaint states.

"Otherwise a local government could circumvent the Right to Farm Act through creative language and render the Right to Farm Act a practical nullity. ...

"Banning GE crops because they purportedly cause harm to the health, safety, and welfare of Jackson County residents renders the farming of GE crops a nuisance, as it is defined under the common law and the Right to Farm Act. Banning GE crops because the farming of GE crops purportedly harms the economic interests of organic farmers due to alleged pollen drift also renders the farming of GE crops a nuisance."

The farmers seek declaratory judgment that the ordinance is invalid under the Right to Farm Act and want its enforcement enjoined.

They also seek $4,205,000 in damages.

They are represented by Shannon Armstrong, with Markowitz Herbold, in Portland.

Oregon voters were asked to decide on Nov. 4 if genetically modified organisms should have mandatory labels on food. The initiative, sponsored by the group Oregon GMO Right to Know, was narrowly defeated - apparently.

Opponents of the measure, including biotech giants like Monsanto, donated $21 million to the campaign to defeat it.

Supporters of GMO labeling still hope the measure may pass, with several thousand ballots still being processed.

Monsanto last week sued Maui , seeking to stop a similar ballot measure against genetically modified crops, which voters there approved on Nov. 4. A judge then preliminarily enjoined enforcement of the initiative "until the court considers the full legal merits of the initiative," a Monsanto representative said Friday.

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