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Oregon GMO critics, proponents agree on mediation system

A bill that would encourage mediation between farmers engaged in disputes over biotech, conventional and organic crops in Oregon is headed for a vote on the House floor.

Disputes over genetically modified crops would be mediated by Oregon farm regulators under legislation that has won support from biotech critics and proponents.

Mediators from the Oregon Department of Agriculture would help resolve coexistence conflicts among growers of biotech, conventional and organic crops as part of House Bill 2509, which is headed for a vote on the House floor.

A farmer who refuses to participate in such mediation and later loses a lawsuit in the dispute would be required to pay the opposing party’s costs and attorney fees.

In conflicts over infringing farm practices — such as unwanted cross-pollination between crops — ODA officials would also oversee the collection of samples to establish a “chain of custody.”

Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, said if passed the legislation will cast a light on the number and type of such disputes, which are currently largely anecdotal.

“We feel this is highly preferable to any kind of mandates and practices that favor one type of crop over another,” Bushue said during an April 14 hearing before the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water.

Committee Chair Brian Clem, D-Salem, said the proposal emerged from a work group on genetically modified organisms and has not met with any opposition from participants.

The bill was unanimously referred for a vote on the House floor with a “do-pass” recommendation during the April 14 work session.

“It creates an incentive for people to mediate coexistence conflicts,” said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, which supports stricter regulation of genetically modified organisms.

While HB 2509 doesn’t provide for direct state regulation of genetically engineered crops, it would allow farmers to discuss their options before resorting to litigation, he said.

However, increased restrictions on GMOs are still on the table during the 2015 legislative session.

On April 21, lawmakers are scheduled to hold a possible work session on House Bill 2674, which would require ODA to establish “control areas” for biotech crops in which they’d be subject to regulations, like isolation distances.

Biotech crops growing outside control areas would be considered “an infestation subject to eradication” under HB 2674, which would also impose fees on GMOs to compensate farmers who are negatively affected by them.

The House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water approved several other bills during its most recent work session:

  • House Bill 2277, which expands the authority of drainage districts in Oregon’s Multnomah County to conduct flood control.
  • House Bill 2633, under which the Department of Land Conservation and Develop will develop best practices for local governments to minimize development in areas prone to natural disasters.
  • House Bill 3531, which directs the Oregon Department of Agriculture to develop a marketing plan for value-added ag products from the state.

Read the original article on Capital Press here.