Local Food Rights Under Threat

Local food and agriculture are a big deal in Lane County, but proposed legislation in Salem could take away communities’ rights to regulate those very things. Senate Bill 633 would prohibit local governments from making laws about seeds and their products, leaving a broad swath of traditionally local rules in the hands of the state. The bill, which didn’t advance in the regular session, has been reintroduced as a bargaining chip in complex negotiations about tax increases and cuts to PERS. Lane County farmers harvested about 71,781 acres and $124.3 million worth of crops in 2012.

While the supposed reason for preempting local control, according to environmental attorney Melissa Wischerath, is to ensure that genetically modified (GM) crops can be grown, SB 633 goes beyond that issue by prohibiting local rules about seeds and their products. This would affect agriculture, nurseries and flower growers as well. Wischerath says SB 633 would affect rules on GM crops, farm stands, types of trees grown in public right of ways, burn days, local food policy councils and more. What’s appropriate in one part of Oregon isn’t always right for another, she says.

Ann Kneeland, a lawyer with Support Local Food Rights, says the bill is written by corporations for corporations. “We see it as part of a national trend that corporations are increasingly running our government,” she says. Model legislation from conservative group ALEC’s summer conference included the Pre-Emption of Local Agriculture Laws Act.

While proponents of SB 633 say that this is a simple shift from local control to state control, Kneeland says that’s just a talking point, and it’s not simply a question of jurisdiction. For example, she says, when the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) addressed the local issue of allowing canola in the Willamette Valley Protected District in the summer of 2013, farmers had to go through the arduous process of getting the ruling reversed to protect their crops from cross-pollination. When it comes to the ODA, Kneeland says, “They have no credibility as experts on local farming and local agriculture.”

Support Local Food Rights is working toward a November 2014 ballot measure banning GM crops locally. The county clerk rejected its original language as too broad for the single-subject test, but SLFR has submitted revised wording and is working with the clerk to make sure it can pass the test.

Kai Huschke from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund will speak about community rights and local food rights at 6 pm Friday, Sept. 27, at LCC downtown, room 105. Food rights ralliers are heading to Salem on the expected SB 633 vote day, beginning Monday morning, Sept. 30, to oppose the measure. See localfoodrights.com for more information.