The Oregon Court of Appeals has decided to keep blocking a voter-approved initiative that bans genetically engineered crops in Josephine County.
The appeals court last week affirmed a lower-court decision that said a 2013 state law forbidding local action against genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, took precedence over the county’s 2014 ban.
That ruling by Circuit Court Judge Pat Wolke came in a lawsuit from Oregon farmers Robert and Shelley White, who once grew GMO sugar beets for the Swiss corporation Syngenta.
Portland attorney John DiLorenzo Jr., who represented the Whites, said the appeals court decision made the county ordinance unenforceable. In fact, the county never tried to enforce it and did not defend it in court, the Grants Pass Daily Courier reported.
“Lots of jurisdictions have unenforceable codes on the books,” DiLorenzo said. “This is now one of them.”
Mary Middleton, leader of the group Oregonians for Safe Farms and Families that defended the ban in court, conceded defeat.
“I don’t believe there’s another next step in Oregon,” she said. “There’s not another court to go higher with this. We’ve come to the end of the road, in terms of litigation.”
Middleton vowed to keep seeking change at the legislative level, saying lawmakers are ignoring the will of the people.
“We are not giving up, we are not giving in, we are going to continue to work on behalf of our farmers who have asked for protection in this beautiful seed-growing region,” she said.
Josephine County’s initiative easily passed 58 to 42 percent in May 2014, a surprising margin given its conservative leanings.
GMO crops make up the vast majority of corn, cotton, soybeans, canola and sugar beets grown in the United States and smaller percentages of alfalfa, papaya and squash. There is no evidence that GMOs are unsafe to eat, but changing the genetic code of foods presents an ethical issue for some.
Supporters of the initiative argued that GMO crops can contaminate non-GMO crops through cross-pollination.