Gelser bill seeking to keep canola out of mid-valley passes Oregon House

Legislation to keep canola out of the Willamette Valley, where specialty seed growers fear it would contaminate their crops, passed the Oregon House of Representatives on Tuesday.

House Bill 2427, sponsored by Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, now goes to the Senate for a vote.

Canola seeds are crushed to make cooking oil or biodiesel, but the crop was barred from the valley until February, when the Oregon Department of Agriculture passed a rule allowing up to 2,500 acres to be planted.

That decision was stridently opposed by the area’s $32 million specialty seed industry, despite safeguards designed to protect their fields.

Seed growers argued that canola can readily cross-pollinate with a number of related plants grown here, including radish, cabbage, mustard, broccoli and chard, contaminating their crops.

They also worried that planting the oilseed crop near their fields could introduce new pests and diseases and pose a risk of “gene drift” from the genetically modified canola varieties favored by some commercial growers.

The measure cleared the full Ways and Means Committee last week and passed the House Tuesday morning by a 33-27 margin.

“It will be a close vote in the Senate, but I’m optimistic it will pass there, too,” Gelser said.

The District 16 representative said the canola question has been a contentious one because it pits one group of farmers against another. In one camp are the specialty seed producers, clover growers and fresh market vegetable farmers. In the other are grass seed growers, wheat producers and the Oregon Farm Bureau.

“People who usually agree on agriculture issues are finding themselves on different sides of this debate,” she said.

For Gelser, it makes sense to protect an established specialty seed industry against the risks posed by canola, especially given the recent suspension of wheat contracts by foreign buyers after a genetically modified plant was found in an Oregon field.

“I’ve been passionate about this bill for more than a year,” she said, “but the discovery of GMO wheat and the reaction to it made me really believe we were on the right track.”

The version of the bill that passed the House does include some compromise provisions. If not reauthorized, for instance, the measure would sunset in 2019. It also includes a $700,000 appropriation to fund a study by Oregon State University researchers to determine the compatibility of canola and other members of the brassica family with established Willamette Valley seed crops. Up to 500 acres of canola could be planted in the valley for research purposes.

A Molalla-based nonprofit called the Friends of Family Farmers led the charge to overturn the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s canola rule. Policy director Ivan Mulaski said he would have preferred an outright ban but called Gelser’s measure an acceptable compromise.

“We’re supporting the bill. It’s a good step forward,” Mulaski said. “It’s much better than the wholesale commercial production which the ODA rule would have allowed.”

Matt Crawford, an Amity-area farmer who heads the 70-member Willamette Valley Oilseed Producers Association, said his group was disappointed by the House vote but would continue to fight the measure in the Senate.

“We’re definitely disappointed that the state Legislature is going to choose which markets can and can’t succeed in the state,” Crawford added. “We feel the Department of Agriculture is better equipped to handle that and make rules to control how crops are planted.”

Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

(17) comments

TruthIs

Since Bennett provided one figure that clearly was meant to influence perception of this bill, here is "the rest of the story" so readers are better informed and can consider for themselves whether this bill is in the general interest, or for a limited special interest.

The "Willamette Valley Protected District" defined in the statute are the parts of the following counties that include most of the land used for agricultural production. The last figures for total gross farm and ranch sales, as reported by the Oregon Department of Agriculture in 2011:

Washington: $284,778,000
Multnomah: $55,104,000
Yamhill: $259,013,000
Clackamas: $332,940,000
Polk: $156,911,000
Marion: $616,867,000
Benton: $97,968,000
Linn: $279,581,000
Lane: $125,009,000
--------------------------------
Total: $2,208,171,000

For perspective, Bennett's $32mil figure is just 1.4% of that number.

You can play with the ag numbers any way you like, the ODA publishes an annual report that, unfortunately, has not yet been updated:

Oregon Agriculture: Facts and Figures
http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/docs/pdf/pubs/ff.pdf

Ginevra
Ginevra

So what is your point Truthis? That these growers are not allowed to be concerned about their livelihoods, in the full knowledge that GM canola is regarded as a 'promiscuous' plant and has been found to readily cross with other brassicas, and that GM hybridisation of their crops would render their abilities to function? Regardless of the size of the figure reported by Bennett it represents an industry that is currently viable to that figure. Introduce GM canola and that ability will rapidly diminish through contamination.

occupystephanie
occupystephanie

Truthis' comment illustrates the huge lobbying effort which has been arrayed against the reasonable banning of GMO canola in the Willamette Valley exclusion zone.

The figures above seem impressive but are used in specious logic since they seem to pit the "greater interests" of big agriculture against a minority (but skyrocketing) agricultural industry. Banning GMO canola will not harm those agricultural interests as not all of them want to grow GMO canola which is simply a lucrative cover crop. However, the growing of this brassica weed WILL HARM our specialty seed industry.
How many of those figures will drastically fall when the ODA issues its next report which will take into account the hit that Oregon agriculture as a whole took from the Monsanto GMO contamination?

If this bill was ultimately damaging to the agricultural interests that Truthis cites, why would 37 Oregon House Representatives--many representing the districts that Truthis cites in his figures--vote for it? Please note that the vote was bipartisan.

Our Representative Sara Gelser deserves accolades for being able to shepherd this bill through the house on a bipartisan basis. Kudos!

TruthIs

@Ginerva - the point is very simple: This is bill in which the government is actually picking winners and losers business by protecting the interests of a very relative few and privileged business owners. Exactly what people like @occupystephanie say they are against.

The vote in the House had a lot more to do with party politics, as does Gelser's support, than anything else. In fact if you look at the actual vote here:

http://gov.oregonlive.com/bill/2013/HB2427/

It was almost a straight party line vote, and most of those votes were from D's at the Portland and Eugene terminii of the valley or completely outside the valley entirely. But for people like @occupystephanie, truth is never an obstacle to what they believe.

And by the way, the bill doesn't only ban GM canola, it bans all canola growing. In fact, the bill never once even mentions "genetically modified" or any variant thereof. It is by waving the GM flag that you both intentionally distort the situation, and that's giving you credit that you know the text of the bill. Will you tell all the readers you support a bill that ONLY bans GM canola (where "GM" is understood to NOT include selective breeding techniques), but allows non-GM canola as a compromise?

It also bears pointing how people like @occupystephanie resorts to the intellectually dishonest tactic of claiming that if you disagree with their selfish viewpoint, you perforce are an agent of whatever evil interests they use for propaganda value. This is an all too typical tactic of the pseudo-"progressive" wingnuts in this town and state. To them it's not possible that someone can look at the facts objectively and recognize selfishness, dishonesty, and corruption on both sides. At least @Ginevra had the decency to say it is about one selfish business interest asking for government favors against another. That's their right, to be sure. But there is no moral or ethical superiority there.

And for those who like to roll this all up into the typical conflicted fuzzball of Corvallis "progressive" ideas: Of the commonly available cooking oils, canola oil is recognized as being one of the best sources of Omega-3. So there may be a bigger question here about how we should think about the future potential of canola.

Like so much of the fantasy thinking that goes on in Corvalli, you two misrepresent what this particular bill and vote was about. That speaks volumes about the ethics and morality of what you claim to represent. Unfortunately, so far we haven't been able to depend on the G-T and Bennett to provide a better picture.

Kenny D
Kenny D

TruthIs - I don't understand your support of a crop that can harm existing farms in the state.

Let's try this - you're a craft brewer, and you've spent years (and thousands of dollars) crafting a distinct, pure brew. Your brew is in demand worldwide because of its uniqueness and purity. Coors builds a plant next to your brewery, and allows its yeast to blow in the open air, contaminating your brew. Do you turn around and give them a thumbs up for ruining your business?

Canola is not the only rotation crop that is economically feasible, but it is the only rotation crop with a strong (read: money and power) lobby.

TruthIs

Well let's strip your faulty analogy down to the bare bones: First let's note you didn't address the non-GMO/GMO distinction, so we have to take you argument at face value that you are really making an argument here just about the issue of brassica cross-pollination, not the spread of GMO traits. In view of that, what you are arguing is that you (like a lot of folks in these parts) believe the state should stop everybody else, whoever they are, from having the same rights --- the chance to participate in the market and make a pretty decent income as a result --- with those you support.

Of course in America, anyone has a right to ask for that, and I defend your right to ask. But under what ethical or moral social justice theory do you think the people should even entertain giving someone that privileged market position? (And I really don't think you want to resort to the "who got here first" argument, many other farmers have had their land in their family much longer.)

You also don't seem to understand, based on your comment, that there is a difference between denying someone the same rights as you have, and requiring everybody to appropriately mitigate their impacts on others when each is exercising their rights equally. As a result, your analogy is faulty. The brewing industry is a manufacturing process and we have reached social agreement it is reasonable to attempt to regulate emissions of any type from a manufacturing process. Even farms are regulated for certain offsite impacts as a result of their operations. But nature is what nature is, and so the legal and philosophical basis for regulating offsite impacts from crops growing themselves is more limited. Contrary to your hypothetical that deals with mitigation, this is an exercise of state power to benefit a relatively privileged but powerful few (the geographical distribution of those actually voting for it is partial proof of that) at the cost to all. It is depriving some of the right to grow a crop while allowing a privileged few to grow other closely related crops. That should be something that concerns everybody for obvious reasons.

And by the way, Oregon doesn't even actually have a state Environmental Impact Statement law, which is one common mechanism by which impacts and their mitigation is arbitrated in an equitable way. That is because a whole lot of folks, including craft brewers, don't want the costs of such a process. If we did have an EIS law, it would be clear that those supporting this law are demanding they be protected by law from mitigating a whole class of offsite impacts: Potentially decreasing the economic opportunities and rights of their neighbors.

To be honest, I don't expect you to get it. A whole lot of folks in Corvallis, Portland, and Eugene where the votes to put it over the top actually came from, don't really get the whole idea of a "two-way street".

Kenny D
Kenny D

There is no need to differentiate non-GMO/GMO canola; in either form, it cross-pollinates with a myriad of other cash crops.

"But under what ethical or moral social justice theory do you think the people should even entertain giving someone that privileged market position?" That's the question local farmers are asking, TI - and it seems the answer is 'money'.

Take a look at meadowfoam, a crop comparable to canola that 1) doesn't cross-pollinate; 2) is grown for rotation purposes and plant oil; and 3) is already present in the valley. What I read in your post is, "I don't care about anyone else, I will make money as I see fit and everyone else be damned."

Thank you for answering my analogy. I see that you would give a thumbs-up to anyone ruining your craft business.

TruthIs

Yes @Kenny D, you make it clear that your position is precisely what you instead try to project on those who challenge you:

"What I read in your post is, 'I don't care about anyone else, I will make money as I see fit and everyone else be damned.'"

Just from the rest of your comments, your description of what you read in my post really is nothing more or less reflection of your own position, not anything you can point to in my comments. Yet ironically, you, @occupystephanie, and @Ginerva, like a bunch of really sad folks in Corvallis, absolutely need to simplistically demonize in this way anybody who calls BS on the truly hypocritical behavior we've seen around this issue and in Salem this week, as with so many issues.

Finally, business is about taking risks that don't always pay off. No one is guaranteed success. And for sure, anybody who is truly interested equity and justice should be very concerned about the government using its power to protect the financial success of a privileged few to the potential detriment of us all. There may be arguments why HB 2427 actually is in the public interest, but few, least of all the politicians involved, seems to have felt they need to show some humility and respect and make those arguments to the public.

Kenny D
Kenny D

TruthIs, I really don't understand what you are saying. Your argument for Big Canola is the same argument the heirloom farmers are using.

Business is about risk; I agree. However, we have farmers in the valley who have risked it all to produce distinct and pure crops, carving out a niche for themselves in the Grass Seed Capitol of the world. Allowing canola in the valley will dilute their crops and destroy their livelihood. Going back to my analogy, would you welcome a business that will (not maybe, not if, not possibly - it WILL) destroy your hard work and livelihood? Again, proponents of canola are set on canola and canola only, even through there are viable alternatives to canola farming.

If you worship money over people, please say so. I place people, their dedication to their business and customers, and their livelihoods over a quick easy buck.

TruthIs

I think the point has been made clearly. You just can't accept it because it is fundamentally about principles of what it actually means to put people first, as I do. Indeed there is an argument to be made just from your words that you, @occupystephanie, and @Ginerva, and too many of our elected leaders in Corvallis and Oregon, don't actually put people first. You put a fuzzy fantasy, and actually just a relative few who play lead roles in that fantasy and benefit from that, first. And you believe everybody else should pay the cost of that by having the government use its might to benefit those privileged few. Most of the rest of us are just stage props in what really is a pseudo-morality play for the enrichment and enjoyment of the lead players and their circle.

Everybody in business works hard, and I've know a lot of good folks who've worked hard and lost. I personally don't like to see anybody lose. But I recognize sometimes people lose because they make bad decisions and that should be the primary reason they lose. A really bad business decision is one in which you build a business in which you depend on the government to use its might to privilege you over others, and in particular actually prevent others from exercising the same rights to try to make a business out of their own hard work as you.

It's just that you, @occupystephanie, and @Ginerva just believe it's bad when someone you don't like happens to be the one who gets the government to use its might for their benefit.

Kenny D
Kenny D

"A really bad business decision is one in which you build a business in which you depend on the government to use its might to privilege you over others, and in particular actually prevent others from exercising the same rights to try to make a business out of their own hard work as you."

TruthIs just defined the Monsanto business model.

occupystephanie
occupystephanie

Oregon decided a very long time ago that the public had a vested interest in how our land--particularly farmland--was used. The outcome of this bill is in keeping with that decision. The benefit of allow the growing of canola as a lucrative rotation crop does not outweigh the worth of their neighbor's farms and livelihoods nor of Oregon's international agricultural reputation.
10,000 Oregonians have signed my petition STOP GMO IN OREGON in less than a month.
http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/stop-gmo-in-oregon
37 Oregon Representatives voted for this finely crafted bill. The Senate is expected to pass it. Big Agriculture did not win this one; small family farmers did.

TruthIs

@occupystephanie's contempt for all of us in, and in particular how it assumes most of us aren't smart enough to know the reality of the situation, is palpable. Just like their family farmer neighbors for whom she has specific contempt, much of the "specialty" seed business that accounts for the $32mil figure is just another local facet of Big Agriculture. Ag businesses can be organized in various ways, but it is still Big Agriculture when we are talking about entities that do hundreds of millions and billions of dollars of business and who make much of that by in turn selling to large industrial consumers. (She also once again fails to address the GMO/non-GMO issue in its own right.)

You don't stand for anybody @occupystephanie except the caricatures of people who you view as objectified props in a fantasy world that you believe should be arranged for your benefit. But you are not alone in Corvallis.

occupystephanie
occupystephanie

Truthis, I have 10,000 Oregonians who have signed on to my statement that GMO open field trials should be placed on moratorium, our Land Grant University ought to fulfill the 110-year-old mission of the continuum of research, teaching and extension (via public domain releases, not private patents), and farmers who have already been harmed by the GMO wheat contamination ought to be made whole. 33 legislators have signed a letter to Gov Kitzhaber supporting that last point. So, you are right on one point--I am not alone in Corvallis or, indeed, Oregon.
I don't think you mean to tell those representatives--Rep Tim Freeman and Doug Whitsett who are far from liberal--who voted for this are living in a fantasy world.
The only contempt I see on this page is yours for the political process, our legislature and anyone who disagrees with you.
The canola bill was a political compromise and "your side" got $700,000 to plant 500 acres of canola in the exclusion zone. There is real concern that canola will spread from those open test sites as it has in North Dakota where it has been surveyed in a peer reviewed study and found to have escaped and established herbicide-resistant weed populations in the ditches. The public is waiting to hear about what kind of precautions can be taken to prevent canola from spreading--as it has been proven to do--from these 500 acres.

TruthIs

This party line Democratic vote was enough to pass this bill by a comfortable margin without the six Republicans. And Freeman and Whitsett are two of the three of those six who don't even represent districts in the valley.

Once again, you are intellectually dishonest in that you conflate the GMO issue with the canola issue for your own political ends. Just as you misrepresent the particular "family farmers" that are getting government protection for their private businesses against other businesses, many of whom are no less part of Big Agriculture than the other family farmers you attempt to marginalize in the public debate with that accusation. (And by the way, the subsequent peer commentary about that study doesn't quite confirm the implicatures you may want people to draw.)

You again show your ignorance and immaturity by throwing out statements like "your side" and "contempt for the political process". The point here is only you have seem to have "a side". I don't have a side except as a member of the public who sees little in this bill or the propaganda from advocates and politicians supporting it that has nothing to do with the public interest. I've been pointing out what is missing in your propaganda about the bill and how it is all about a privileged few, rather than the public. Unless, of course, you want to acknowledge here that you actually are part of a privileged special interest "side" that is getting favors from politicians against the public "side".

Finally, my comments have focused on adding the rest of the story about the political and propaganda process at work here. You've added all the arguments about another example of how the politics have worked to benefit the few. So it is telling that you see comments filling out the story as "contempt for the process". Actually this seems to be pretty much like the typical thinking of the 1%, who believe the process is supposed to exist for their benefit, so any comments that present more of the story are "contempt for their process" that is supposed to serve them.

What's not clear is if you just hitched your GMO wagon to an independent issue as an marriage of political expediency, or if you actually are with that privileged few who seek benefit for their private business at the cost to other businesses and see the GMO issue as a good propaganda technique. (Like I said before, it's their right to ask for private benefit, it's not their right to assume the role of all of us in society is to serve their benefit.) Either way, this whole thing once again reveals how all too often the public interest isn't really at the heart of Oregon and Corvallis politics, ignorant self-myths aside.

TheRealJules

Gosh, nature sure is messy. It allows some plants to cross-pollinate with others. A kind of natural GMO, huh? But GMO is bad, and nature must be bad because it allows it to happen. We must stand in the way of nature and protect some people's use of their land at the expense of everyone else.

I like the comment about how "we" have decided that "our land" should be used certain ways. Very telling. An honest statement that there are no property rights in Oregon, only the right to be taxed on property you can't use.

jcvinga

Funny in that canola is a made up term--Canadian oil from rapeseed. Guess rapeseed didn't sound politically correct, so the industry had to coin a "feel good" name. Now even the plant is called "canola". In my book, there is no such thing--it's rapeseed oil. The stuff has been produced in Canada for years. How about some U.S. and Canadian scientific agricultural experts communicate and actually factually determine if there is any danger to other crops, or if this is some fabricated complaint to keep a new crop out of the valley? True science, not junk science and not PC "green" science, goes a long way to solving disputes, imaginary or not. The canola plant is imaginary--it's rapeseed.

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