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Paul Towers

Syngenta’s next target: Jackson County, Oregon

Last week, Swiss-based pesticide corporation Syngenta dumped tens of thousands of dollars into a county election in Southern Oregon. Sound familiar? It should. Still reeling from their recent defeat in Kaua'i, Syngenta and the rest of the "Big 6" don’t want to lose any more fights around pesticides and GMOs.

But Oregononians are holding their ground. Led by a group of farmers dubbed Our Family Farms Coalition, these residents put an initiative on the ballot that would restrict the planting of genetically engineered crops. The vote will be on May 20.

While Syngenta may try to paint them as "out of touch," this organized group of family farmers notes that the law would provide protections for them and other farmers. The initiative would ensure farmers in Oregon aren't exposed to increased pesticides use; don't lose business — including potential losses of market exports — from contamination of their crops; and aren't vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits brought by the likes of Syngenta and Monsanto for so-called “patent infringement.”

The problems are very real for Oregon. No one has yet to figure out how Monsanto’s “rogue" GE wheat was growing in a farmer's fields over the summer, even though that strain of wheat hasn't been grown in experimental plots for over a decade. And that contamination had serious financial repercussions, effectively shutting down exports to countries like Japan and Korea.

I've learned a lot about genetically engineered crops and this will be the last year I grow them.
– Jared Walters, Oregon farmer

So now, Oregon farmers are doing their best to stand up to the powerful pesticide and genetically engineered seed corporations so they can keep farming and sustain their livelihoods. As farmer Jared Walters said, "I’ve learned a lot about genetically engineered crops and this will be the last year I grow them.”

Pesticide bullies

It's no suprise that Syngenta & Co. are putting vast resources into the campaign to defeat the Oregon ballot measure. As I've noted in previous blogs, these corporations invest heavily in shutting down opposition to their products at local levels. Most recently, they launched an aggressive public relations effort to defeat a bill in Kaua'i County, Hawai'i that created disclosure of their products and no-spray buffer zones around sensitive sites like schools. And while it was an inredibly tough fight, Kaua'i residents were able to get the bill passed.

When they can’t get what they want at the local level, Syngenta and the rest of the "Big 6" global pesticide corporations try to push things through at the state level. With only a few weeks of the current Hawai'i legislative session left, it seems unlikely that industry will rush something through this session. But, as I noted before, they've done it before in an effort to preempt local rights.

Fight continues in Hawai'i

While the Kaua'i County bill passed late last year, pesticide corporations are still fighting it. While their pushing for state legislation to undermine the authority of local govenernments, Syngenta & Co. also filed suit against Kaua'i County. And earlier this week a judge granted PAN, our members and partners on Kaua'i the chance to help defend Kaua'i from the lawsuit.

Andrew Kimbrell at Center for Food Safety — one of our close partners — noted that, “The judge said specifically he wanted to include the perspective and voices of the people on Kauai who were being affected.”

The ruckus on Kaua'i hasn't deterred others in the state from taking up the same fight. Maui County residents have collected well over the 8,500 signatures needed to qualify an initiative for the November 2014 ballot that would prohibit growing GE crops. And, we expect, the pesticide corporations will soon turn their attention and money to focus on Maui. But money will only go so far.

Tides turning?

It hasn’t been a good few months for Syngenta. In two high-profile pieces — one in The New Yorker and one on Global News’ “16×9” (the Canadian equivalent of “60 Minutes”) — the company was implicated in attacks on independent scientists. These scientists' research exposed links between the company’s flagship product, atrazine, and its effects on endocrine systems, or hormones.

Syngenta & Co. continue to put their considerable resources behind discrediting scientists that shine a light on their products, and defeating local efforts around the country to protect farmers from GE contamination and pesticide exposure. But the effort to expose their practices and the problems with their products is even stronger. Farmers and residents of Jackson County and Maui County will prevail, one way or another.

Photo credit: AwakenedEye/iStock

Picture of Paul Towers

Paul Towers

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