There has been tremendous concern over Senate Bill 633, which we have been considering in the Rural Communities and Economic Development Committee. Considering that there has been some confusion about what the bill is and is not, I hope that I can help shed some light on it.
Senate Bill 633, if adopted, would make the regulation of agricultural seed, flower seed and vegetable seed the responsibility of the state, rather than allowing individual Oregon counties to develop a patchwork of regulatory decisions. The bill would give the state the last word on the regulation of genetically modified and engineered products.
There seems to be a very active debate over genetically modified organism (GMO), and genetically engineered (GE) foods, plants and seeds. It is important to note that SB 633 is not promoting GMO or GE foods and plants. The bill is just addressing at what government level the issue should be addressed.
Some folks in the state think that the issue should be addressed at the county level, by the process of creating a county ordinance. At first glance, as a promoter of local control, I would agree. However, when presented with the facts, I conclude that that would not be a wise choice.
The regulation of farm practices has mostly been the responsibility of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. That government agency, along with Oregon State University, has the expertise, resources and ability to research these concerns. The counties do not.
When a county passes an ordinance, it has the responsibility to enforce and defend that ordinance. In this particular issue I do not believe that the counties have that ability. There are other right-to-farm laws in Oregon that may be in conflict with any local ordinance banning GMO or GE foods, plants and seeds. This conflict could lead to expensive litigation over the issue.
I don’t think the counties have the resources or the ability to defend a banning of GMO or GE foods, plants or seeds within a county. I am convinced that this issue needs to be addressed at the state level. I encourage anyone who is concerned about GMO or GE foods, plants or seeds monitor and engage in that debate at the state level.