The Oregon Department of Agriculture is forging ahead with its plan to expand planting canola in the Willamette Valley, and canola, also known as rapeseed, opponents are fighting the weed-like plant fiercely. They say not only does canola risk the livelihoods of vegetable seed growers, but also canola is so easily dispersed that conventional (nonorganic) canola is often contaminated by genetically modified (GMO) crops.
Friends of Family Farmers (FFF) has filed a suit challenging the temporary rule that allows farmers to start planting canola in the Willamette Valley. More than 23,000 people, including 10,000 Oregonians, signed a petition asking ODA not to issue the temporary rule allowing for reducing the canola control district in the valley, according to FFF.
Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed, which is part of the suit, says that when canola was planted in research plots in the Willamette Valley, Oregon State University researchers documented genetic flow between canola and other species. He says if the canola was GMO canola, then you would have GMO contamination. According to Morton, the OSU scientists decided canola was a one-way street — you can’t reel it back in. The scientists did not advise introducing canola to the valley because of the risk to Oregon’s more than $32 million a year seed industry.
Morton says, “We know from our experience with Roundup Ready sugar beets — once in the ground you can’t get it out of the ground.”
Leah Rodgers of FFF says a Canadian study shows that 97 percent of the seed lots studied were contaminated by GMO canola. GMO canola easily cross-pollinates not only with other, non-GMO canola, but also with other brassica family vegetables like kale and rutabagas as well as the roadside weed wild mustard. Rodgers says that cattle also disperse canola. After the canola has been pressed for its oil to be used in biofuels, the feedstock is fed to dairy calves. Rodgers says the seeds are not always entirely crushed, and the calves then spread it in their manure.
It’s still unclear where the demand to plant canola is coming from, and Rodgers says FFF has a lot of concerns about the process ODA used to put the canola rule in place.
Paulette Pyle of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, a group that was formed to advocate for aerial herbicide spraying, says, “OFS has no position on the growing of any crop.” She adds, “We do support the legal use of tools our farmers need for growing agricultural crops such as canola, pesticides, fertilizers, etc.” Pyle says that the farmers determine what they choose to grow and the group has many different types of farmers on its board.
Morton says that, ironically, there are other canola control districts in Oregon. One district is on the east side in Malheur County. Canola can be freely grown in most, though not all, of eastern Oregon. The control area is a strip along the Oregon-Idaho border, where it is restricted to protect seed farmers in Idaho. In addition to the GMO contamination concern, Morton says canola can have root maggots, which affect all members of the brassica family. “A field of canola is a root maggot breeding ground,” Morton says.
Morton and Friends of Family Farmers are joined in their efforts to fight canola by Oregon Tilth, the Oregon Clover Commission, Eugene-based National Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) and the Center for Food Safety, to name a few. The Center for Food Safety is also a party in the case against the temporary rule. Morton has written an opinion piece on the canola issue and the process with ODA at eugeneweekly.com