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Oregon’s GMO Alfalfa Growers Settlement

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

By Ashley Ellixson

Green tractor in front of barn (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

Back on May 29, 2015, an Oregon Federal court issued its ruling in Schultz Family Farms, LLC v. Jackson County, addressing two legal topics currently seen often in the agriculture world: genetically modified crops and right to farm laws. The lawsuit began when the plaintiffs, several growers of genetically modified alfalfa in Jackson County, filed suit challenging the validity of Jackson County Ordinance 635, where voters approved a May 20, 2014, ban on growing genetically engineered plants in that county. The ordinance was scheduled to take effect on June 5, 2015. Ultimately, the court determined that the Right to Farm Act does not prevent the ordinance, and that the ordinance is specifically authorized by Senate Bill 863. To read the full analysis, please see my first blog post as well as here where Paul also discusses this issue.

Today I am going to discuss what happened to those farmers who had already planted GMO alfalfa when the ban went into effect. On December 22, 2015, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke approved a settlement outlining how GMO alfalfa growers are allowed to grow their crops for eight years despite the ban. In exchange for the settlement, the Shultz and Fink families who had filed the lawsuit agreed not to appeal the court’s ruling. The families also agreed to stop seeking the $4.2 million in compensation for the removal of their crops.

The rest of the farmers in Jackson County with GMO alfalfa have to make a decision whether to join the settlement by submitting sworn documents identifying the locations of where their crops are grown, which is said to be covered by a protective order to ensure the safety of these farms. These farmers will also be required to harvest their GMO alfalfa before it reaches 10% bloom in order to reduce cross-pollination, which was the issue that brought about the ban in the first place. A article stated that ‘[t]he ordinance is now in effect and biotech growers who don’t submit field information would be “flagrantly violating the law,” said George Kimbrell, attorney for the Center For Food Safety, a non-profit that intervened in the case to support the ban.’ Attorney Shannon Armstrong for the families in this case is optimistic about the settlement, since farmers outside of the lawsuit also get to join in on the settlement, and she is aiming to protect of the privacy of the farmers as much as possible.



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