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Judge upholds Oregon county's GMO ban in rare democratic win vs. Monsanto

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(NaturalNews) A federal judge has partially dismissed a lawsuit brought by two local commercial alfalfa farmers in Oregon and backed by biotech giant Monsanto who sought to overturn a Jackson County ordinance banning the use of GMO seeds.

As reported by Revolution News and The National Law Review, U.S. District Judge Mark D. Clarke struck down the farmers' claim that the anti-GMO ordinance, which was approved overwhelmingly a year ago and is set to take effect June 5, was in violation of the Oregon Right to Farm Act because it was a violation of their right to farm.

In part, the ordinance reads, "It is a county violation for any person or entity to propagate, cultivate, raise, or grow genetically engineered plants within Jackson County."

In his ruling, Clarke said that, while the farming rights law prohibits ordinances and lawsuits that seek to treat common farming methods as trespass or nuisance, it does not protect activities that can harm commercial agriculture. The federal magistrate agreed with the defendants who argued that there was potential to taint organic crops as a result of cross-pollination with nearby commercial GMO crops.

"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," Clark said. "Farmers have always been able to bring claims against other farmers [under the Right to Farm Act] for practices that cause actionable damage to their commercial agriculture products," and the local county ordinance simply "serves to prevent such damage before it happens," he wrote.

Part of the suit remains alive

Clark also found that state legislators sought to permit the Jackson County GMO ban because they expressly excluded the ordinance from a statewide measure in 2013 that preempted other local governments from regulating GMO crops, reserving such regulatory authority for the state.

As The National Law Review further reported:

Specifically, the GMO preemption bill–passed during a special session of the Oregon Legislature in September 2013–includes an exemption for any ordinance that had qualified for the ballot before January 2014 and would be voted on in May 2014, an exemption the Jackson County ordinance falls squarely within.

Clark's ruling grants a partial summary judgment to plaintiffs' "right to farm" law claims. However, their claim seeking $4.2 million in compensation from Jackson County, which they said was incurred as a result of the forced removal of some 300 acres of GMO-seed alfalfa crops – remains valid.

Still, those who seek to eliminate GMO crops nationwide see the ruling as a big win, especially since Monsanto was bankrolling the plaintiffs' efforts. However, as noted by Revolution News, they are likely to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, though there is no indication whether the court will hear the case.

Clark's ruling could also have wider, far-reaching implications as a number of other GMO-related laws are facing similar challenges in other venues around the country.

An appeal is coming, but victory is not assured for the GMO forces

George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, an anti-GMO group, praised Clarke's ruling.

"This case is a resounding affirmation of the right of farmers to protect themselves from Genetically Engineered contamination," he said, as quoted by Revolution News.

Last May, two-thirds of Jackson County voters approved the anti-GMO ordinance, which was supported by more than 150 family farms growing organic foods, six local granges and scores of local businesses.

The ordinance victory came despite being opposed by Monsanto and other biotech and biochemical corporations, which spent nearly $1 million to try to defeat it.

The suit was filed in November. Several local organic farming interests have joined in the case with amicus briefs in support of the defendants.





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