Muckboots in the Capitol – 5/1/13
If you look on the list of registered corporate lobbyists in Oregon, you won’t find anyone listed as representing Monsanto, the multi-billion dollar herbicide and biotech seed company that showed huge profits last quarter. But Monsanto, and other major biotech industry players like Syngenta, have indeed infiltrated major big ag groups that spend a lot of time in the Capitol. Unfortunately, when multinational companies start calling the shots for agriculture, the little guy and local communities often lose out.
This week’s narrow passage of SB 633 by just two votes in the 30 member Senate, shows the ’seedy’ influence multi-national ag companies have in the Oregon Legislature, and their willingness to use that influence to squash local control and community discussions about ‘right to know’ policies and measures to protect local agricultural industries.
SB 633 was brought forth by Oregonians for Food and Shelter (which boasts representatives of out-of-state companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont on its Board of Directors) and supported by the Oregon Farm Bureau (which has its annual golf tournament sponsored by Monsanto and Syngenta), to specifically block a Jackson County ballot measure set for a vote next year that would ban genetically modified crops from being planted in that county. The measure was brought forward by local organic farmers and their supporters by gathering the thousands of signatures necessary to put the issue on the ballot.
But despite claims that SB 633 is good for farmers by ‘keeping regulation of agriculture at the state and federal level’, SB 633 creates a broad state preemption of all local laws and ordinances that allow for local control of many ag policies that are most appropriately managed at the local level.
For example, Hood River, Jackson and Umatilla County all maintain policies to protect orchards and fruit tree growers, including some that require farmers to take certain actions with their fruit trees to protect others around them. If SB 633 becomes law, sensible local policies like these may well be unenforceable by local governments.
The bill also broadly applies to local government entities like Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Weed Control Districts, and to the extent these local government entities have created local requirements around seeds of finished crops (think crop quarantines and invasive species issues), these too could become unenforceable. Further, counties and cities also often set and enforce local policies around a range of issues, from requirements for the use of certain plants in landscaping, to food safety, and the location and type of farm-stands, many of which could be rendered null and void by SB 633.
SB 633 is very broad and would specifically prohibit ‘any local laws or measures for regulating the display, distribution, growing, harvesting, labeling, marketing, mixing, notification of use, planting, possession, processing, registration, storage, transportation or use’ of agricultural seeds and products of those seeds – meaning finished crops, trees, food, etc.
Twelve Senators recognized the significant problems with the bill and voted against it. They all deserve credit, and special appreciation goes to those Senators who took to the floor to speak in opposition, Senator Alan Bates, Senator Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward, and Senator Floyd Prozanski, who had also voted against the bill in committee. Three Democrats joined all 14 Republicans to give the bill just one vote more than the 16 needed for passage.
While the Senate vote was a setback for the ability of local communities to make their own policy choices for their local areas to protect farming and local food, we believe the bill can still be stopped as it now moves to the Oregon House. But your help will be needed – please make sure your Oregon House member knows how bad a bill SB 633 is and urge their opposition.
– Ivan Maluski, Policy Director