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Jackson County, OR GE-Free Zone Successfully Protected From Legal Challenge

Federal Court Decision Upholding County Ordinance Will Not Be Appealed
MEDFORD -

Today a Federal Judge in Oregon approved a consent decree, or court-approved settlement, protecting Jackson County Oregon’s “GE-free” zone, created by an Ordinance that prohibits genetically engineered (GE) crop cultivation in the county. Two GE alfalfa farmers, with financial backing from the biotechnology industry, had challenged the law late last year, saying it violating existing Oregon State law. In May, Federal Judge Mark D. Clarke resoundingly rejected that challenge and instead ruled in favor of those defending the law, the Our Family Farms Coalition (OFFC), Center for Food Safety (CFS), and the County. 

“Today’s settlement protects Jackson County’s ordinance from any appeal, and in so doing is another important victory for farmers and the environment,” said George Kimbrell, CFS Senior Attorney and counsel in the case. “GE-Free Zones like Jackson County are important to the future of our food because they allow farmers to grow traditional and organic crops without risk of transgenic contamination. U.S. farmers and consumers have a right to say no to Monsanto’s damaging and pesticide-driven business model.”

Center for Food Safety and Our Family Farms Coalition, which represents farmers growing traditional non-GE crops, became parties in the case earlier this year to defend the law on behalf of local traditional and organic farmers. OFFC helped pass the Ordinance banning GE crops in 2014 in order to protect their crops from contamination by GE crops.  

“After years of fighting, farmers like myself can finally go to bed at night knowing our crops will be protected from GE-contamination,” said Elise Higley, the executive director of OFFC. “It is great to know that the will of the 66 percent of our county’s voters that passed this measure will be given effect.”

OFFC and CFS were jointly represented by legal counsel from CFS and Lewis and Clark Law School’s environmental litigation clinic, Earthrise Law Center. The legal decision focused on the argument that the county Ordinance violated Oregon’s “Right to Farm” law, with the Court concluding it did not. However, the plaintiffs had one remaining claim not yet litigated, asserting that it was a “taking” of their property to have to remove their current crops of alfalfa, for which the county had to pay them compensation.

“This case is important in that it makes clear that farmers growing traditional crops have the right to adopt local laws to protect their crops against GE contamination,” said attorney Lia Comerford with the Earthrise Law Center. “This has always been a David and Goliath battle and we are very pleased Jackson County’s ban on GE crops will stand.”

Under the terms of the consent decree, the two Roundup Ready GE alfalfa farmers in Jackson are allowed to keep their current limited GE alfalfa in the ground, for the remainder of its useful life.  However they cannot plant any new GE crops, and they must take measures to prevent against contamination from their farms.  Most importantly, the plaintiffs have agreed to not appeal the decision, meaning when the few remaining acres of GE alfalfa are removed, Jackson County will be a GE-free sanctuary. In addition, under the terms of the settlement, the plaintiffs are foregoing their remaining “taking” of property rights claim against the county.

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Center for Food Safety's mission is to empower people, support farmers, and protect the earth from the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture. Through groundbreaking legal, scientific, and grassroots action, we protect and promote your right to safe food and the environment. CFS's successful legal cases collectively represent a landmark body of case law on food and agricultural issues.

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