MEDFORD, OR (AP)
A Josephine County judge has struck down a local ban on genetically engineered crops, pointing to a state law that prevents local anti-GMO rules.
Voters in two southern Oregon counties — Jackson and Josephine — approved anti-GMO ordinances in May 2014. The votes came months after state lawmakers approved a bill that prohibited local governments from regulating genetically engineered crops.
Lawmakers, however, carved out an exception for Jackson County because its measure had already qualified for the ballot.
Opponents of GMOs in Josephine County went ahead with their own measure, saying they would let the courts decide if the vote is valid.
'The state law says that the localities may not legislate in this area; and the voters of Josephine County have attempted to legislate in the exact same area,' Judge Pat Wolke wrote in Monday's ruling. 'It is impossible to read the two enactments in harmony; so that the local ordinance must give way.'
The decision favored farmers seeking to plant biotech sugar beets on 100 acres of leased farmland.
County Counsel Wally Hicks told the Mail Tribune he was not surprised by the decision and it would be up to county commissioners to decide whether to appeal. Hicks said the opinion relied on a previous Oregon Supreme Court ruling that state law pre-empts local law when they are incompatible.
Scott Dahlman from the group Oregonians for Food and Shelter said the ruling affirms that Oregon farmers will be playing by the same rules, regardless of their home county.
'It sends a clear message that this law is constitutional and it keeps counties from regulating crops, specifically GMO crops,' Dahlman said.
Lawyer Melissa Wischerath from the Center for Sustainability Law in Eugene intervened on behalf of the county in the case. She said the ruling was a disappointment and declined further comment.