By: Elise Higley
Being a family farmer has never been easy, but farms like mine in Jackson County, Oregon have been overcoming challenges such as new weeds, drought and pests for centuries. But one threat that family farmers are not equipped to handle is the threat that our crops will be contaminated with pollen from a genetically engineered (GE) crop being grown nearby.
At a time when family farmers are struggling to protect themselves from the threat of GE contamination, new Congressional legislation threatens to block any local efforts to protect family farmers from contamination. The so-called “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” (H.R. 1599), introduced by Representative Pompeo (R-Kan.), is not surprisingly being backed by the chemical corporations that have engineered corn, soy and numerous other crops to withstand heavy herbicide spraying before being sold to consumers. This legislation is not only a major threat to family farmers and the rights of local communities to protect our agricultural economies, but it would also overturn the ability of states to require labeling of GE foods and undermine consumers’ right to know what is in their food.
There is no fence that can protect the corn crop my family grows for seed from being contaminated by Monsanto’s or Syngenta’s GE corn. If a neighbor or contract grower plants GE corn, when the wind blows towards our farm our seed crop will be contaminated by patent-protected GE pollen and rendered worthless since it would be illegal for us to sell or plant the contaminated seed. This risk led over 150 family farms in southern Oregon’s Jackson and Josephine Counties last year to pass a ban on the cultivation of GE crops. With strong bi-partisan support and despite almost $1 million in opposition from Monsanto and other biotech patent holders, our generally rural and conservative counties voted to ban the growing of GE crops by a 2 to 1 margin.
Voters across the country have similarly passed a range of local laws aimed at protecting farmers and communities from GE crops. Some communities have GE free zones where traditional farmers could thrive while others have required buffer areas between GE crops and hospitals or schools to minimize pesticide exposure. Not all counties may want to take the same action that Jackson and Josephine Counties did last fall, but it should be their right to decide for themselves.
With the recent approval of crops that have been genetically engineered to be sprayed with the herbicide known as 2,4-D, a main ingredient used in Agent Orange, there is more reason than ever for local communities and states to want to protect our right to locally control how GE crops are cultivated in our communities. Also, when foods sprayed with 2,4-D start reaching the supermarket in the near future there is good reason to expect a surge in consumers wanting to know whether the food they are buying for their families has been engineered for 2,4-D spraying.
Yet H.R. 1599, commonly referred to as the “Denying Americans the Right to Know” (DARK) Act, would expressly preempt all state or local oversight of GE crops. The bill would also severely weaken already feeble federal regulation of GE crops at USDA and FDA at a time when the Obama administration is taking steps to address it.
A lack of federal oversight of biotechnology in agriculture has repeatedly led to incidents of transgenic contamination, with devastating effects to traditional and organic farmers. The contamination of U.S. corn supplies with Syngenta’s GE corn, for example, has already cost U.S. corn farmers more than $2 billion in the last two years after China refused to allow importation of the contaminated corn. The contamination of the U.S. rice supply with Bayer’s GE rice cost farmers more than $750 million in losses.
While federal courts have recently upheld common sense local rules on GE foods, such as Vermont’s labeling law and Jackson County’s local ban on GE crops, passage of the DARK Act would be a dark day for both family farmers and consumers. It would hand over all power over GE crops to a vocal minority in Congress that has consistently put the interests of biotech patent holders over the interests of family farmers and consumers.
Family farmers have enough issues to worry about that we should not have to live in fear that our farms will be contaminated by GE crops. Monsanto can spend all the money they want fighting us at the ballot box, in the courts, and in the halls of Congress, but we cannot let them and the other chemical corporations threaten the foundation of our farms and our food supply.
We oppose the DARK Act and strongly believe Congress should preserve the existing rights of states and local governments to protect family farmers and consumers from GE crops.
Higley is a farmer in Jackson County, Oregon and director of Our Family Farms Coalition.
Originally Published: The Hill