Settlement Proposed In Legal Challenge To Jackson County's GE Crop Ban

Dec 7, 2015

Farmers challenging a Southern Oregon county’s voter-approved ban on genetically engineered crops have agreed to settle. If approved by the court, Oregon’s first countywide ban will have cleared a final legal hurdle.

The Jackson County ban survived an initial challenge earlier this year, when a federal judge ruled the law did not violate Oregon’s Right to Farm Act. But the county said it would not enforce the ban until a $4 million lawsuit by two GE alfalfa growers was resolved.

Under the proposed settlement announced Monday, these farmers wouldn’t have to tear out existing genetically engineered alfalfa, a perennial crop that can be harvested at least five years before needing to be replaced.

“It safeguards these farmers’ investments in their crops and protects their right to earn a living and continue to support their families. So we think it’s a very reasonable settlement,” said Shannon Armstrong, lawyer for the farmers.

But they also wouldn’t be able to replant those fields or plant any new fields with GE crops.

The growers also agreed to drop their lawsuit against the county and not appeal the previous federal ruling.

Jackson County commissioners will decide whether to sign on to the proposed settlement at their meeting Tuesday morning. If they do, it will go back to the federal court for final approval.

Other groups could come forward to challenge the Jackson County GE ban, but Elise Higley said she doesn’t think that will happen. Higley is director of Our Family Farms Coalition, the group that initiated the campaign to pass the GE ban in 2014. The coalition joined Jackson County in defending the law in the current challenge.

“I really think it puts it to rest," she said. "I think if people really look at what’s been proposed, it’s in the best interest of everybody to move forward in this direction.”

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