At last report, the Oregon Department of Agriculture was accepting comments on whether to allow canola, a.k.a. rapeseed, in the 3.7 million acre protected agricultural zone in the Willamette valley.
Canola can legally be grown in much of the state, but the protected zone is home to a $50 million/year specialty seed industry, and genetic purity drives the business. Canola cross-pollinates with other crops, spreads easily and is notorious for transmitting disease and pests, so it’s a problem here. Also, although you won’t find this mentioned in official reporting, 95% percent of canola is genetically modified. In Oregon, the Department of Agriculture doesn’t distinguish between GM and natural canola, hence no official discussion of the matter, but the truth is, once Round-up Ready canola mixes with other brassica, it is darn near impossible to get rid of it.
Last fall the Oregon Department of Agriculture issued a quiet, some say sneaky, ruling (at 5 p.m. on a Friday night) allowing a temporary exception to the ban on canola, so farmers can grow it as a rotation crop and, with state and federal energy tax credits, to press as an oil for fuel. Seed growers feared, with good reason, that temporarily admitting canola would mean a de facto end to international demand for organic cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, mustards, kohlrabi and other brassica seed crops.
At a public hearing in September, 99% of the speakers, including biologists from Oregon State University, opposed allowing canola in the valley. Funny thing — while representatives from the big GM seed companies didn’t testify at the hearing, it’s hard to imagine a few weren’t around for the annual Farm Bureau Classic, a golf tournament sponsored by Monsanto, DOW and Syngenta, which was held the day before.
The Department of Agriculture issued a ruling allowing canola into part of the protected area. Undeterred, specialty seed crop farmers, biologists and activists kept the pressure on, and this week the Oregon House, rebuffed the Department of Agriculture and passed HB 2427, which would prohibit canola in the valley until 2019, and provide money to Oregon State University to study the risks of cross-pollination and disease. It now moves to the Senate. If this is an issue you care about, contact your (or an) Oregon State Senator, a.s.a.p! Here’s how. For more information: see Friends of Family Farmers, and The online research magazine for the Oregon State University Agricultural Experiment Station