The Willamette River, from its headwaters in the Calapooya Mountains outside of Eugene to its confluence with the Columbia north of Portland, forms the base of a long narrow valley that not only contains 70% of the state's population, it's also Oregon's most fertile agricultural area. Averaging only 25 miles wide, the valley's rich volcanic and glacial soil was deposited here by ancient Ice Age flooding and can be half a mile deep in some areas.
Because it is a member of the Brassica family (Brassica napus, B. rapa and B. juncea), it can cross-pollinate with with similar brassicas like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and turnips, endangering these valley crops and the farmers who depend on them for their livelihoods. With the bulk of the domestic canola crop also contaminated with GMOs (approx. 93%), this presents a particular threat to organic farmers and seed producers, since current USDA Organic guidelines do not allow for genetically engineered material.
Recently, the USDA deregulated canola production, a move that was pushed by large agribusiness concerns like Monsanto. This prompted the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) to reevaluate its canola regulations, and on Aug. 3, 2012, it issued a temporary ruling to allow planting of the crop in certain formerly protected areas. This decision was made after a working group hit a deadlock regarding the boundaries of where canola can be planted in various protected agricultural areas of Oregon.
By taking the decision in-house, the ODA has circumvented regulations requiring input from the public and the agricultural community. The new rule is set to take place this Friday, Aug. 10, though no justification has been made as to why the rule has to be rushed into implementation.
A stakeholder letter signed by Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon Clover Commission, Wild Garden Seeds, Fresh Market Growers Association, Oregonians for Farm & Food Rights, National Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Greenwillow Grains, and Adaptive Seeds asks the public to sign a petition asking Katy Coba, Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Governor John Kitzhaber to halt the temporary ruling process.
Other actions include:
- Call ODA and ask them to halt the temporary rulemaking process: phone 503-986-4552 or e-mail Director Katy Coba
- Contact Governor John Kitzhaber: phone 503-378-4582 or e-mail the Governor’s office
Photo of canola field in Boardman by Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives, via Wikimedia Commons. Canola blossom by Canada Hky (own work), via Wikimedia Commons.