County commissioners support GMO lawsuit resolution

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to support the proposed resolution of a lawsuit over the county's ban on growing genetically modified crops.

Farmers growing alfalfa genetically modified to withstand herbicides will be able to keep their crops growing for up to eight years and will not be required to remove the plants, as otherwise would be required under the GMO ban voters approved in May 2014.

News of the commissioners' vote in favor of the agreement will be sent to a federal judge, who will decide whether to approve an agreement resolving the lawsuit.

GMO alfalfa farmers Bruce Schulz of Gold Hill and James and Marilyn Frink of Sams Valley filed a lawsuit against the county, arguing they would lose more than $4.2 million if they were forced to remove their crops.

After months of negotiations, anti-GMO groups Our Family Farms Coalition and the Center for Food Safety reached the proposed agreement with the farmers to allow the crops to remain for up to eight years, the coalition announced Monday.

"I applaud the efforts," Commissioner Rick Dyer said. "It seems to be well crafted to protect the interests of the parties involved."

Dyer said the agreement would respect the will of Jackson County voters.

"It's the best outcome for all involved in the case," Commissioner Coleen Roberts said.

The agreement stretches out for eight years because that is the expected lifespan of a GMO alfalfa crop, Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton said.

Other farmers who grow GMO crops in the county can take part in the agreement if they step forward and identify themselves and the GMO crops they grow. The crops must have been planted before the county's ban was adopted, Benton said.

The agreement applies to perennial, rather than annual, crops and covers the projected lifespan of a crop, he said.

Jackson County has not enforced the GMO ban because of the potentially costly lawsuit filed by the GMO alfalfa farmers.

The county will not take enforcement action against the GMO alfalfa farmers or any GMO farmers who step forward and opt in to the agreement, Benton said.

"It prevents claims against the county for the loss of the value of crops," he said.

The voter-approved GMO ban allows other people to file complaints about GMO crops. The proposed lawsuit agreement will not block other parties from filing complaints. However, if no one files a complaint during the eight years, the lawsuit case will be officially closed and dismissed, Benton said.

Elise Higley, director of Our Family Farms Coalition, said she was pleased with the commissioners' support of the agreement.

"I'm happy with the decision, and I think it's a fair settlement," she said.

Higley said there are relatively few GMO farmers in the county, and the GMO ban benefits agriculture in the county long-term.

Some nations have rejected imports of GMO crops and crops they fear may have been contaminated by GMO plants. Many consumers are also wary of GMO ingredients.

GMO supporters say genetically engineered organisms can have traits that are valuable to farmers and others, including increased productivity.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

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