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genetic engineering | sustainability

Benton County Community Rights Coalition: Asserting Local Control of Food System

Benton County Community Rights Coalition (BCCRC) is a non-profit in Oregon formed to educate citizens about their legal rights to local community governance. The group is currently aiming to gather the needed signatures to qualify its Sustainable Food System Ordinance for the May 2014 ballot.
It's been over a year now since a small group of organic and conventional farmers, along with food advocates, came together to confront the issue of GMOs in their county. During that time, the BCCRC has built a coalition of supporters, hosted numerous public presentations as well as a community rights workshop taught by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund Democracy School, and co-sponsored the Willamette Valley Farm and Food Rights Summit.

On June 5, 2013,the What's In Our Future Benton County petition committee (a political action committee) resubmitted a Sustainable Food System Ordinance to the Benton County Clerk for approval to circulate a petition to residents. The group had submitted a similar version of the ordinance back in October of 2012. According to one judge's findings in February 2013, the group has made the necessary corrections to meet the single subject requirement for a local citizens' initiative.

The Sustainable Food System Ordinance of Benton County establishes citizens' rights to: a sustainable food system; seed heritage; and clean air, water, and soil for sustainable agriculture in Benton County. The ordinance also prohibits unsustainable practices - like the planting of GMO's - that would violate those rights.

The BCCRC believes that as free citizens, we must elevate our community's rights above the corporate "rights" and state preemptions that currently usurp our ability to decide the face of agriculture in our own community. The Coalition not only asserts its community's rights to a sustainable food system, but also asserts the inalienable rights of nature to exist, persist and flourish.

The BCCRC is one of many coalitions bubbling up across the United States to demand the rights guaranteed to citizens by the federal and state constitutions. The right to local self-governance is a fundamental and inalienable right:

  • The Declaration of Independence asserts that governments are instituted to secure the rights of people
  • Section 1 of the Oregon Constitution recognizes that "all power is inherent in the people"
  • Article VI, Section 10 of the Oregon Constitution guarantees home rule powers to Counties
  • Section 203.035 of Chapter 203 of the Oregon Revised Statutes grants counties ordinance-making power to address matters of County concern

The issue of corporate-led agriculture and the threat to rural communities and family farmers in Oregon is not new. Recent events, including the introduction of Senate Bill 633, which is aimed at completely eliminating any local control of agricultural seed; the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA)'s decision to expand canola production in the Willamette Valley exclusion zone at the expense of the local specialty seed industry; and the discovery of unauthorized GMO wheat in eastern Oregon, which threatens multi-million dollar grain contracts, have made it clear that deep change is needed in order to protect the local farm and food system.

"It's time that we reclaim what has always been rightfully ours, that is, our right to grow and produce food in a manner that protects the health and safety of this county and strengthens our local economy," says Clint Lindsey, farmer and chief petitioner of What's In Our Future Benton County. "Big agribusiness has one goal in mind: that is to control the entire food system no matter the cost to people and the environment, nor how indentured farmers and the public become to that corporate system. We cannot afford to wait for the federal and state governments to save us. In fact they have been more than happy to authorize and protect the corporate assaults to our local farm and food systems."


BCCRC 16.Aug.2013 14:17

Bill of Rights

Right to a Sustainable Food System: All residents of Benton County possess the right to a sustainable food system. This right shall include, but is not limited to, the right to access, use, consume, produce, harvest, collect, process, and distribute foods generated from sustainable agricultural systems within Benton County.

Right to Seed Heritage: All residents of Benton County possess the right to grow, adapt, save, preserve, protect, collect, harvest, and distribute all seeds grown within Benton County. This right shall include, but is not limited to, the right to be free from infection, infestation, or drift by any means from genetically engineered organisms, trans-genetic risk seed, or other seeds that have been developed using methods other than traditional plant breeding.

Rights of Natural Communities: Natural communities, such as soils and other terrestrial systems, and aquatic systems such as aquifers, streams, rivers, and wetlands, shall possess the right to exist, persist, maintain themselves and regenerate their own vital cycles, structures, functions and evolutionary processes in order to ensure the integrity of a sustainable food system. That right shall include the right to be free from genetically engineered organisms and the right to be free from the patenting or ownership of their genes within Benton County.

Right to Self-Government: All residents of Benton County possess the right to a form of governance where they live which recognizes that all power is inherent in the people and that all free governments are founded on the people's consent, for the purpose of the creation and protection of a sustainable food system. Use of the "Benton County" municipal corporation by the people of Benton County shall not be deemed, by any authority, to eliminate or reduce that self-governing authority.


Rights are Fundamental and Self-Executing: All rights delineated and secured by this ordinance are fundamental and inalienable, shall be self-executing, and shall be enforceable against both public and private actors.


The Ordinance 16.Aug.2013 15:32

BCCRC

Sustainable Food System Ordinance of Benton County, Oregon

Section 1. Findings and Intent We the people of Benton County have the inalienable right to grow, raise, rear, access, harvest, preserve, process, exchange, and consume - both individually and collectively - whole food and food products from a sustainable food system.

We the people of Benton County find that our right to a sustainable food system is essential to the well-being of the County's residents and natural communities, as well as the health, resilience, and flourishing of the local economy, of which local agriculture plays a vital role.

We the people of Benton County have the right to a sustainable food system and seed heritage that does not harm the right of natural communities to exist, persist, and flourish; adapts to local growing conditions; promotes biodiversity, resilience, and productivity; and provides for the social, equitable, nutritional, economic, and cultural enhancement of the quality of life for all residents of Benton County.

We the people of Benton County find that the civil right to grow, save, preserve, protect, harvest, adapt, and distribute open pollinated seeds, which is the foundation of all agriculture, is required - both individually and collectively - to secure the peoples' commonly held seed heritage and right to a sustainable food system.

We the people of Benton County find that the patenting and ownership of seeds and other self-replicating life forms used for the growing, rearing, or raising of food is a direct threat to our inalienable right - both individually and collectively - to grow, save, preserve, protect, harvest, adapt, and distribute seed to grow food and produce food products from one generation to another within Benton County.

We the people of Benton County find that the patenting and privatization of seeds that have been genetically modified interferes with the diversity of and access to the people's seed heritage, reduces the people's ability to save, replant, and adapt open pollinated seeds free of contamination, limits research and development of seeds and other life forms adapted to local growing conditions and soils that meet the economic and nutritional needs of the community, encourages the use of genetically modified or altered life forms which pose significant risks to natural communities and farmer livelihoods through irreversible contamination of crops and related species.

We the people of Benton County understand that any attempt to prohibit the privatization and use of patented seed may run afoul of claimed corporate "rights" to engage in those practices, as well as State or federal laws. We understand that failure to legislatively challenge those "rights" and laws guarantees that a sustainable food system will never exist.

We the people of Benton County therefore enact this local law pursuant to the inherent and inalienable right of the residents of Benton County to govern their own county for their own health, safety, and welfare. That authority is also secured by the Declaration of Independence's assertion that governments are instituted to secure the rights of people, in the State Constitution of Oregon's recognition that all power is inherent in the people, and in the Benton County Charter, which delegates the authority to the people and their representatives to enact local legislation on matters of county concern;

Therefore, through this Ordinance, which shall be known and cited as the "Sustainable Food System Ordinance of Benton County, Oregon", the people of Benton County ordain as follows:

Section 2. Statements of Law - Food Bill of Rights

a) Right to a Sustainable Food System: All residents of Benton County possess the right to a sustainable food system. This right shall include, but is not limited to, the right to access, use, consume, produce, harvest, collect, process, and distribute foods generated from sustainable agricultural systems within Benton County.

b) Right to Seed Heritage: All residents of Benton County possess the right to grow, adapt, save, preserve, protect, collect, harvest, and distribute all seeds grown within Benton County. This right shall include, but is not limited to, the right to be free from infection, infestation, or drift by any means from genetically engineered organisms, trans-genetic risk seed, or other seeds that have been developed using methods other than traditional plant breeding.

c) Rights of Natural Communities: Natural communities, such as soils and other terrestrial systems, and aquatic systems such as aquifers, streams, rivers, and wetlands, shall possess the right to exist, persist, maintain themselves and regenerate their own vital cycles, structures, functions and evolutionary processes in order to ensure the integrity of a sustainable food system. That right shall include the right to be free from genetically engineered organisms and the right to be free from the patenting or ownership of their genes within Benton County.

d) Right to Self-Government: All residents of Benton County possess the right to a form of governance where they live which recognizes that all power is inherent in the people and that all free governments are founded on the people's consent, for the purpose of the creation and protection of a sustainable food system. Use of the "Benton County" municipal corporation by the people of Benton County shall not be deemed, by any authority, to eliminate or reduce that self-governing authority.

e) Rights are Fundamental and Self-Executing: All rights delineated and secured by this ordinance are fundamental and inalienable, shall be self-executing, and shall be enforceable against both public and private actors.

Section 3. Statements of Law - Prohibitions Necessary to Secure the Bill of Rights

a) It shall be unlawful for any corporation or governmental entity to violate any right secured by this Ordinance.

b) It shall be unlawful for any corporation or governmental entity to engage in the use of genetically engineered organisms within Benton County.

c) It shall be unlawful for any trans-genetic risk seed to be planted in Benton County by any corporation or governmental entity unless such seed has been proven to be free of any traces of genetic modification, and such proof has been submitted to the Benton County Commissioners and the report released to the public without charge.

d) It shall be unlawful for any corporation or governmental entity to require registration or patenting of open pollinated or traditionally-bred seed within Benton County.

e) No person or business in Benton County shall be liable to any corporation claiming seed patent or ownership rights and claiming loss of income or commercial infringement resulting from the inadvertent infection of agricultural crops by genetically engineered organisms or other patented traits.

f) No permit, license, privilege, charter, or other authority issued by any State or federal entity which would violate the rights or prohibitions of this Ordinance, the Oregon Constitution, the United States Constitution, or other laws, shall be deemed valid within Benton County.

Section 4. Implementation

a) Existing, non-perennial and perennial genetically engineered organisms within Benton County must be harvested, removed, and/or destroyed within ninety (90) days after the adoption of this Ordinance.

b) It shall be unlawful to allow re-growth of genetically engineered seedlings, forage sod, stump sprouting, or perennials (including, but not limited to, alfalfa) in any location where those organisms have previously been intentionally grown, processed, or stored. The Benton County Commissioners shall establish fines and shall impose those fines on landowners violating this sub-section.

c) Ninety (90) days after the effective date of this Ordinance, owners of patents of genetically engineered organisms which are found within the County on lands owned by residents, corporations, or governmental entities, where the genetically modified organism or life form was not intentionally put there by the land owner or a tenant, shall be strictly liable for the costs of clean-up and removal, testing, lost income, attorney fees, and any other costs related to the contamination.

Section 5. Enforcement

a) Any resident or group of residents within Benton County shall have legal standing and the authority to enforce the provisions of this Ordinance in a court of competent jurisdiction. In such an action, the resident or group of residents shall be entitled to recover damages and all costs of litigation, including, without limitation, expert and attorney's fees.

b) Benton County may enforce this Ordinance through an action brought in a court of competent jurisdiction. In such an action, Benton County shall be entitled to recover all costs of litigation, including, without limitation, expert and attorney's fees. Violation of the prohibitions established by this Ordinance shall also be a criminal offense, and action against the violator shall be brought by the County in a court of competent jurisdiction.

c) Any action brought to remedy the violation of the rights of natural communities shall list the natural community as a plaintiff in the action; damages sought must bear a relationship to the damage inflicted upon the natural community, and awarded damages must be payable to the municipality for the restricted use of repairing the natural community to its condition prior to the violation.

Section 6. Enforcement - Corporate Powers

a) Corporations which violate this Ordinance shall not be deemed to be "persons," nor possess any other legal rights, privileges, powers, or protections which would interfere with the enforcement of rights or prohibitions enumerated by this Ordinance. Such powers shall include the authority to assert state or federal preemptive laws in an attempt to overturn this Ordinance, and the authority to assert that the people of the County lack the authority to adopt this Ordinance.

b) All laws adopted by the legislature of the State of Oregon, and rules adopted by any State agency, shall be the law of Benton County only to the extent that they do not violate the rights or prohibitions of this Ordinance.

Section 7. People's Right to Self-Government

Any attempts to use other units and levels of government to preempt, amend, alter, or overturn this Ordinance, or parts of this Ordinance, shall require Benton County to hold public hearings that explore the timely adoption of other measures that expand the ability of residents to protect their fundamental and inalienable right to self- government, including without limitation, the amendment of the Benton County Charter to secure the peoples' rights as enumerated in this Ordinance to a sustainable food system. Section 8. Definitions

a) "Corporation": Shall refer to any corporation, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, business trust, other business entity, or limited liability corporation organized under the laws of any State of the United States, or under the laws of any country.

b) "Engaged in the Use of": Shall include, but not be limited to, the use, provision, sale, or patenting of genetically modified organisms which are then used, planted, grown, cultivated, raised, reared, propagated, or harvested.

c) "Genetically Engineered Organism": Any organism, organisms, or life forms, in which the genetic or self replicating material has been changed, engineered, modified or altered using techniques such as, but not limited to:

1) In vitro nucleic acid techniques, including recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) techniques and the direct injection of nucleic acid into cells or organelles, or

2) Fusion of cells (including protoplast fusion) or hybridization techniques that overcome natural physiological, reproductive, or recombination barriers, where the donor cells/protoplasts do not fall within the same taxonomic family, in a way that does not occur by natural multiplication or natural recombination.

The phrase shall not include traditional selective breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, or tissue culture.

d) "Seed Heritage": All open pollinated seeds developed and adapted over millennia, handed down from generation to generation, held in common by all peoples, and which serve as the inalienable, inherited, life-giving wealth of all future generations of all the people.

e) "Sustainable Agriculture": Agriculture conducted pursuant to the provisions of U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103.19 which does not violate the rights of natural communities and ecosystems as recognized by this Ordinance; which respects the rights enumerated in section two; which provides a viable income for farming and harvesting families; which maintains plants, soil, air, water, and animals free from genetic modifications or patenting; which is free from the application of sewage sludge as well as urban and industrial waste not properly composted; and that provides for the humane treatment of livestock.

f) "Sustainable Food System": A food system based on sustainable agriculture that does not violate the rights of natural communities and ecosystems to exist, persist, and flourish, and which promotes biodiversity, living soils, resilience, and nutrient density while providing for the social, equitable, economic, nutritional and cultural enhancements of the quality of life in Benton County.

g) "Trans-genetic risk seed": Any seed, or crop produced from that seed, including, but not limited to, corn, soy, flax, canola, wheat, and beets, that has been genetically modified or patented and is widely grown, spread, and distributed, making all seeds of those crops and related crops subject to contamination with traces of the alteration.

Section 9. Severability

The provisions of this Ordinance are severable. If any court of competent jurisdiction decides that any section, clause, sentence, part, or provision of this Ordinance is illegal, invalid, or unconstitutional, such decision shall not affect, impair, or invalidate any of the remaining sections, clauses, sentences, parts, or provisions of this Ordinance. The people of Benton County hereby declare that in the event of such a decision, and the determination that the court's ruling is legitimate, it would have enacted this Ordinance even without the section, clause, sentence, part, or provision that the court decides is illegal, invalid, or unconstitutional.

Section 10. Repealer All inconsistent provisions within the county code of Benton County are hereby repealed, but only to the extent necessary to remedy the inconsistency.

Section 11. Effect

This Ordinance shall take effect on the date of adoption.