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Jackson County GMO Ban Survives Court Challenge

Wikimedia Commons
GMO corn growing in a field in the Midwest.

A federal judge's decision Friday leaves Jackson County's ban on genetically engineered crops (GMO) on the books, due to take effect June 5th.

Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke's decision, released Friday afternoon, rejects an attempt by the law's opponents to block it under Oregon's "Right to Farm" law.

Several farmers who grow genetically engineered Roundup-ready alfalfa filed the suit six months after voters passed the GMO ban--by a wide margin--in the May 2014 election.  The filers claimed that their right to farm was violated by the ban.

Judge Clarke disagreed: "Ultimately, the Court has determined that the Ordinance is not preempted by the Right to Farm Act," it reads in part.

Clarke's decision made it clear the merits of GMO would not be covered in the ruling.  The written decision rattles off a list of questions at the heart of the GMO agriculture debate, then this: "The Court's decision... does not attempt to answer any of these complex and difficult questions."

The ruling also found the GMO ban does not run afoul of an Oregon law preventing any more counties from passing similar bans.  The state law, passed in 2013, specifically exempted Jackson County's vote.

Our Family Farms Coalition, which pushed for the GMO ban and joined the defendants in the case, celebrated the decision on its web page: "This is a huge win for family farmers threatened by GMO contamination and a win for everyone who cares about the future of our food supply!"

Plaintiffs did not make a public comment.  The portions of their case calling the GMO ban an unconstitutional "taking" of their land and seeking damages from Jackson County still await their day in court.

Geoffrey Riley is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has hosted the Jefferson Exchange on JPR since 2009. He's been a broadcaster in the Rogue Valley for more than 35 years, working in both television and radio.