MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge in southern Oregon on Friday rejected a request by two alfalfa farms to block Jackson County's ban on genetically engineered crops.
The decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke could allow the ordinance to take effect in June. Clarke found that the GMO ban is not pre-empted by Oregon's "right to farm" law. He said the "right to farm" measure prohibits ordinances and lawsuits that treat a common farming practice as a trespass or nuisance, but the law does not protect activities that harm commercial agriculture.
Clarke also found that state lawmakers intended to permit the county's GMO ban when they excluded Jackson County from a 2013 bill that pre-empted other local governments from regulating biotech crops, the Capital Press reported.
"While farming practices may not be limited by a suburbanite's sensitivities, they may be limited if they cause damage to another farm's crops," the judge said. The Jackson County ordinance simply "serves to prevent such damage before it happens," he said.
Some farmers and others are concerned about possible cross-pollination between biotech crops and those that are conventional or organic.
The case raises important questions about food safety and scarcity on a global level, Clarke wrote in an 11-page ruling. However, he said his decision was more narrowly focused on the construction of the state's Right to Farm Act and the county ordinance, the Medford Mail Tribune reported.
Bruce Schulz of Gold Hill and James and Marilyn Frink of Sams Valley sued the county in December 2014, saying the GMO ban would cause them undue financial hardship and violated their constitutional rights. The ordinance, passed by voters in May 2014, allows farmers currently growing GMO crops to harvest them this season but requires them to remove all genetically modified crops within 12 months.
The plaintiffs interpreted the "right to farm" law as protecting their genetically engineered alfalfa crops from being destroyed.
While Clarke dismissed the alfalfa farmers' arguments regarding "right to farm," their claim seeking $4.2 million in compensation from Jackson County remains alive.
Schulz and the Frinks were not immediately reachable by phone Friday evening for comment. A phone message left with the office of their lawyer, David Markowitz, was not immediately returned.
Anti-GMO farmers calling themselves Our Family Farms Coalition joined the case as defendants in February after Clarke ruled they had standing and could be affected by a ruling.
"We are elated and could not have hoped for a better outcome," said Elise Higley, a Jackson County farmer and the director of Our Family Farms Coalition. "Family farmers should not have to live in fear that our farms will be contaminated by genetically engineered crops."
"This important decision protects the farmers of Jackson County, but also will stand as a precedent for the rights of farmers and communities across the United States to create GMO-free zones to protect the future of our food," said George Kimbrell with the Center for Food Safety, a group critical of biotech crops.
Originally Published: Oregon Live