Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Farmer Emily Goes to Salem

Frankly, I would rather have been seeding leeks on this beautiful day. But instead, I made my way down to the capital today to give testimony in a hearing for a GMO-related bill. I'd only been to the capitol building once before, and never to testify. Everything from the golden statue on top to the State of Oregon doorknobs on the bathroom doors implies wealth and power. I felt terribly out of place, but also fascinated by the way this kind of governance works.

The bill is called House Bill 4122, and it would reinstate local governments' right to regulate of genetically engineered crops in their area. (Background: That right was taken away in 2013, as part of Kitzhaber's "Grand Bargain" to get PERS reform passed.) It's only in the committee stage right now, so it still faces a lot of hurdles, but it's getting more traction than activists expected, thanks to bipartisan support from those skeptical of GMOs and those who support more local control. If this is an issue that speaks to you, it would be great if you could let your state rep know!

For those who are interested, here's a copy of my testimony:

My name is Emily Cooper, and I own Full Cellar Farm, a mixed vegetable farm outside of Gresham. I support House Bill 4122 because I believe that local governments are well suited to make decisions that protect agriculture in their area.

Agriculture is by nature a local business. We operate according to the local laws of soil type, weather patterns, and topography. What makes sense for one part of the state with regard to farming may not make sense for another. Windy areas, wide flat expanses, or places with many small farms clustered together tend not to have the natural protections against pollen drift that other areas might enjoy.

Because I grow my crops without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, I especially rely on regional seed growers to produce vegetable varieties that are adapted to our location and climate. Areas of the state that have a lot of traditional seed growers, or traditional farms accustomed to saving their own seed, need rules in place that would protect them from GE crops that could contaminate the seed supply.

Once a seed crop is contaminated by GE pollen, those seeds can no longer be sold or used. Agriculture is a low-margin business, and this kind of disaster could ruin a farmer. At the very least, it creates a risky environment in which no good business person would want to grow certain crops. Farmers like me, who don’t grow our own seed but rely on regional seed companies for robust, locally adapted varieties, would also be negatively impacted.

As more genetically engineered crops become approved for use, more conflicts will undoubtedly arise. Local governments need the tools to be able to respond appropriately to these conflicts. Please support House Bill 4122, and restore local power over local agriculture. Thank you.

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