What do all these places have in common? At some point, each of these counties have had to decide whether or not to ban the use of genetically modified crops. In all except the last, those measures have successfully passed as ballot measures or by local ordinance. Too bad for you, farmers.
It’s a tactic we’ve seen play out over and over again. Those opposed to genetically engineered crops do not really have much chance at changing things at the federal level, let alone outright banning the cultivation of biotech crops. Instead, these groups move from one county to the next, targeting demographics of people that are likely to sympathize with their anti-GMO stance, and ban the use of GMOs. When campaigning in support of a ballot measure, we usually see misinformation and demonizing rhetoric. I wouldn’t necessarily want to be a conventional farmer in one of those areas (though some places, such as Sonoma County, don’t even have that many farmers to begin with…).
But the state of Montana isn’t going to have it.
The Montana Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation committee passed Senate Bill 155 in a 7-4 vote. The legislation would prohibit local governments, which includes counties, from regulating the “cultivation, harvesting, production, processing, registration, labeling, marketing, sale, storage, transportation, distribution, possession, notification of use, use and planting of agricultural seeds or vegetables seeds.” In other words, such regulation could only be had at the state level, which is a much harder win if you’re an anti-GMO group. It is also worth mentioning that the regulation does not apply specifically to GMO seeds – all seed regulation is prohibited at the local level. You can read the full text of the legislation here.
Now, if you have really been paying attention, you know that Oregon has a similar law in effect. It created a somewhat weird result where the Josephine County ban was deemed moot, though the Jackson County ban was enforceable, based on the timing of the ballot proposals. Naturally, as tends to happen in Oregon, anti-GMO activists are now trying to repeal the state ban. Nonetheless, at least one county was ultimately protected from a GMO cultivation ban based on that law.
Montana isn’t facing the same wave of anti-GMO feelings, but the law is still a good idea.
There is absolutely no reason why local officials should have regulatory authority such as this. Most states have some type of department or agency dedicated to agriculture, which is much more capable of handling the regulation of seeds. These agencies have the funding and scientific foundation to confidently and competently oversee seed regulation for the entire state, and are much less likely to base decisions on bad information or fear-based messaging. Furthermore, local bans are usually the result of misinformation, and fail to actually promote any economic or social purposes.
They also hurt farmers. Many farmers have fields that are spread out and can cross several county lines, including us! Imagine how difficult it would be to try and follow haphazard regulations from one county to the next, especially if a particular field lies in two counties! It is also ridiculous that people with no knowledge or understanding of modern farming should be making key decisions about how we run our farms. While we’re more than willing to transition to better practices for the environment and consumers, we want that information to come from trusted sources with scientific-backing. Ill-informed campaigns limiting our options for no substantive reason is unfair and cripples family farms.
Finally, the use of genetically modified crops has a lot of benefits for farmers, the environment, and consumers!
That’s why it is important for Montana – and other states! – to pass this type of legislation. Let’s stop these absurd seed regulations before they’re able to take root (pun intended).