Reposted from occupystephanie ~ Stephanie Hampton by ninkasi23
Our newspaper, the Corvallis Gazette Times, serves a population which boasts the most Democrats of any town in Oregon but also the highest median level of education in the state. Perhaps those two facts go hand in hand.
The GT (as we call it) covers local concerns with the highest journalistic standards and never shies away from controversy. In our town, it is a must read. Their coverage by Bennett Hall of the recent successful judicial review of the initiative Local Food System Ordinance is a fine example of their work.
What started out as an effort to keep genetically modified crops out of Benton County appears to be morphing into a fight over community versus corporate rights. It’s also part of broader argument that’s playing out in other jurisdictions around the state and around the country.
The measure, if approved, would ban the planting of genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, or the patenting of seeds anywhere in Benton County.
But it would do much more than that: The Benton County Local Food System Ordinance also asserts a fundamental “right to self-government” and denies the authority of the state or federal government to overrule its provisions.
If passed, that would put the county on a collision course with a new state law, Senate Bill 863, which specifically prohibits local governments from attempting to regulate the use or production of agricultural seed.
SB 863 (dubbed "Oregon's Monsanto Protection Act") preempts any local municipality or county from passing regulations concerning agriculture. It was put forward by legislators alarmed at four counties pushing forward with ordinances banning GMO. Due to overwhelming public outcry and many citizen's groups, the preemption bill failed to pass during legislative session. The bill was subsequently "gutted and stuffed" into an appropriations bill during special session to secure Republican votes.
The organization of the Benton County Community Rights coalition was originally formed over the controversial unilateral decision by Katy Coba, Oregon Department of Agriculture director, to overturn the Willamette Valley exclusion zones which had severely restricted the growing of GMO canola. This ODA decision coincided with the sudden appearance of a canola seed processing plant in the midvalley to make biofuel. The cultivation of GMO canola in Benton County alerted farmers in the burgeoning specialty seed industry as well as organic and conventional farmers who feared GMO cross contamination.
The seed growers worried that canola would cross-pollinate with a number of vegetable crops grown in the area. They also feared that GMO canola strains could pass on their genetically engineered traits to non-GMO crops.
Canola had long been excluded from most of the Willamette Valley, but in 2012 the Oregon Department of Agriculture changed the rule to allow it in some areas. The decision set off furious protests from seed growers and their allies, eventually resulting in legislation that restored the old exclusion zone, at least temporarily.
GMO canola is one of the worst offenders of Biotech products because of its propensity to cross contaminate brassica crops. A USDA funded metasurvey of GMO canola in North Dakota by the University of Arkansas
done ten years after widespread GMO canola cultivation found a great deal of cross-contamination in roadside weeds. They also found that the genetically modified genes were replicating to such an extent that they found weeds which showed genetic traits of resistance to two herbicides
--a product not yet manufactured by Biotech Corporations.
The GMO canola controversy started conversations in the farming community which bore fruit. One proponent of non-GMO canola cultivation was so changed by these conversations that he became a chief petitioner of the Local Food System Ordinance.
Lindsey was one of the farmers who wanted to be able to plant canola. But after debating the subject with MacCormack, Allen and other local growers, he changed his mind and joined their cause, helping to found the coalition in March 2012.
Now Lindsey sees canola as a symptom of a corporate-dominated agribusiness system that tramples the rights of individual farmers with patented seed lines and genetically modified strains that threaten to pollute natural crops through genetic drift.
“If we don’t draw a line in the sand now,” Lindsey said, “what you’re going to see in five or 10 or 15 years is the erosion of biodiversity and the control of the food system by corporations, taking it out of the hands of farmers.”
These conversation about corporate rights trumping individual rights are rippling through Oregon where communities see the assertion of their inherent rights to self-government as an effective strategy to deal with corporate-gendered problems from toxic waste dumping to log exports.
Last September, residents of eight Oregon counties came together for a daylong conference in Corvallis. The result was the formation of the Oregon Community Rights Network, made up of representatives from Benton, Jackson, Lane, Lincoln, Marion, Multnomah, Yamhill and Josephine counties.
Invoking the Declaration of Independence to justify the need for a radical restructuring of government, 27 delegates signed a document called the Corvallis Declaration of Community Rights. In a series of clauses beginning “We the people,” the group decried the power of corporations and asserted the rights of communities to pass laws protecting local residents from corporate power.
The Community Rights Movement is also making ripples across the United States. Oregon's Community Rights Network is allied with the national Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF)
which is a public interest law firm founded in 1995 in Pennsylvania whose mission statement is "Building sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.”
To date, CELDF has helped draft more than 160 local ordinances in 10 states aimed at curtailing a wide range of corporate activities, from factory farming and commercial water withdrawals to sludge dumping and fracking.
These laws arise from what Kai Huschke, CELDF’s Spokane-based organizer for the Northwest, calls a “visceral” anger over the actions of big companies and frustration over the ability of state and federal laws to pre-empt local decisions.
“It’s really an evolution of this idea to constitutionally recognize this right to self-governance and also this notion that corporations have more rights than individuals,” Huschke said.
“When you show up in a community where the water can’t be drunk because of hydraulic fracturing, it becomes pretty simple for folks."
Opposing these citizen's efforts to claim their rights are two groups. Oregonians for Food and Shelter
whose board of directors includes Michael Diamond of Monsanto and Danelle Farmer of Syngenta Crop Protection
; and the Oregon Farm Bureau
which has hosted the Monsanto-OFB Golf Classic Golf Tournament
for the past nine years to benefit the OFB Political Action Committee.
Both groups have strong ties to Biotech industries, according the The Oregonian Politifact site. This link to Follow the Money on Oregonians for Food and Shelter reveals that they have heavily donated to Republican legislators, at least thirteen of whom are American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) associates which boasts Monsanto as a corporate member since 1992.
So, the deep-pocketed Biotech corporations and their allies are gathered in opposition to this small group in my town. Scott Dahlman, Oregonians for Food and Shelter executive director, was reported in the GT article as saying that even if voters approve the local measures that SB 863 should keep them from being enacted.
Don’t be too sure about that, says Ann Kneeland, a Eugene attorney representing the anti-GMO petitioners in both Lane and Benton counties.
Both measures, she said, are grounded in the bedrock constitutional principle that the people have the right to govern themselves. While the community rights doctrine has not yet faced a full-fledged legal test, she thinks it could hold up in court.
“It’s definitely a radical concept, but it hearkens back to the founding of this country,” Kneeland said. “It’s democracy as it was really intended.”