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Program intended to address potential spread of seeds to organic farms

EO MEDIA GROUP - In 2015, Oregon lawmakers created mediation protocols for growers who believe nearby GMO farming practices are interfering with their operations. A lack of interest in the program, however, raises questions about its necessity.SALEM — A legislative mix-up has blocked the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s implementation of a mediation program for growers of conventional, organic and biotech crops.

A lack of interest in the program, however, raises questions about its necessity.

In 2015, Oregon lawmakers passed House Bill 2509, which created mediation protocols for growers who believe nearby farming practices are interfering with their operations.

While the wording of the legislation is broad, it was considered a compromise bill to soothe conflicts among producers of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and their neighbors.

Another proposal to create “control areas” where GMOs would be subject to restrictions died in committee that year.

When the ODA began the rulemaking process for the mediation program, the agency discovered it lacked the authority to legally implement it.

Another bill passed in 2015, House Bill 2444, clarified language related to mediation by the agency and removed key provisions that ODA relied upon for the GMO mediation program.

“Through the hustle and bustle of the legislative session, it wasn’t cross-checked with the other mediation bill,” said Kathryn Walker, special assistant to ODA’s director.

The problem will require a legislative fix during the 2017 session, she said. “There is interest in correcting the situation.”

Since the law was passed, though, the agency has received no requests for mediation under the program, Walker said.

Growers can seek similar mediation through the USDA, but none have expressed interest with that agency, either.

Problems of cross-pollination among GMOs and other crops aren’t prevalent, said Barry Bushue, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau.

“My guess is there’s probably not a lot of need for it,” Bushue said of the GMO mediation program.

Bushue pointed to a USDA survey that found only 92 organic farms across the U.S. experienced crop losses from GMOs between 2011 and 2014, while the nation has more than 14,000 organic farms.

“It’s incredibly small,” he said.

Oregonians for Food and Shelter, an agribusiness group, wants to know what kind of problems exist, but the lack of conflicts reported to ODA or USDA indicate they’re likely minimal, said Scott Dahlman, the group’s policy director.

“It speaks volumes to the fact that farmers know how to work together and find ways to figure it out themselves,” he said.

It’s possible that some conventional and organic growers haven’t sought help from the mediation program because they see it as bureaucratic, said Elise Higley, director of Our Family Farms Coalition, which supports GMO-free zones.

Perhaps the legislative fix required for the program will allow lawmakers to revisit a 2013 bill that pre-empted local ordinances from restricting GMOs, she said.

Rather than have a mediation program to deal with the consequences of cross-pollination, farmers would benefit more from a system that prevents problems in the first place, Higley said.

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