When it comes to regulating genetically engineered crops (“GMO”), the conversation can get a little daunting. Who, exactly, should have regulatory authority? Traditionally, the federal government has handled regulations of biotech crops through the USDA, EPA, and FDA. This has worked well because the federal government has more resources to review relevant scientific data and make safety determinations. Just with the regulation of pesticides, the inquiry at the federal level tends to focus on science and facts, rather than emotion. In addition, some states also have pertinent laws regulating these crops, particularly where there are specialized local concerns.
That means that so long as farmers are complying with federal and state regulations, they are then free to make the best seed decisions for their farms.
But anti-GMO activists, along with their financially capable organizations, found a way around this. After multiple anti-GMO state ballot proposals failed, such as California’s labeling law, the focus of these campaigns shifted to countywide governments. Ballot proposals in several counties in Oregon, Hawaii, and California actually banned the cultivation of GMO crops. Instead of just sitting on the sidelines, before those measures passed, Oregon passed a law preempting seed laws in the state. That is, only the state could make decisions about which seeds could be used by farmers, not local governments. Unfortunately, the preemption was only passed in time to stop one Oregon county’s GMO ban, and the other ban was allowed to go into effect.
Perhaps learning from Oregon’s big mistake, many states have decided to act now. 29 states have passed laws that preempt local governments from banning the cultivation of GMO crops.
Of course, activist groups opposed to modern farming are now having fits about the spread of these laws. They’re throwing around all the typical phrases, like “factory farming” and “Big Ag.” It’s no wonder that they’re so upset – those local campaigns have been incredibly successful for them! It’s a lot harder to convince the entire state of California to ban the cultivation of GMOs than it is to convince just one county in California to do the same. This especially true in “trendy” and less rural areas.
Unfortunately, GMO bans hurt farmers no matter which county they’re in.
Family farmers absolutely need this protection from fringe groups. Our industry is tied to the land. We cannot just pick up our operation and move it to a county or state with more favorable laws. At the very least, these laws protect farmers from having local populations turned against them (which was definitely part of the campaigns in Oregon). If an organization wants to take up the fight of banning GMO cultivation (and I’m sure they will), make them fight for that on the state level. State legislators can obviously still do some stupid stuff, but at least there are many more voices involved in the fight and those legislators tend to be more reasonable.
These preemption laws protect farmers and allow us to make the best decisions on our own farms. We are immersed in these issues, in the science, and the discussion. We are making informed production choices and need the ability to use that knowledge to make our farms sustainable – both economically and environmentally. Seed preemption laws offer the protection needed for that to happen.
Unfortunately, as all of this is somewhat recent, I have been unable to locate a complete list of the states that have successfully passed these laws. However, I have confirmed the following states have passed seed preemption laws:
- New Jersey
- North Dakota
- West Virginia
I will update the list if/when I become aware of other states passing legislation to protect family farmers!