An example of what one Oregon County is doing to take their food rights back into their own hands
An Ordinance of Benton County, Oregon
A Food Bill of Rights
Whereas, a sustainable food system within Benton County is essential to the well-being of the County’s residents, natural communities, living soils, and ecosystems, as well as the health and flourishing of the local economy, of which agriculture plays a vital role;
Whereas, sustainable food systems are those that do not harm the right of natural communities and ecosystems to exist, persist, and flourish, that promote biodiversity, resilience, and productivity, and that provide for the social, equitable, nutritional, economic, and cultural enhancement of the quality of life in Benton County;
Whereas, the practice of saving seeds of a harvested crop, especially heritage seed developed over the millennia and bequeathed from one generation to another, is fundamental to biodiversity, resilience, and a sustainable food system. Contamination or threat of contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) is irreversible and can cause the extinction of seed varieties long held as common property by the people and the farmers and growers who developed them;
Whereas, the harvesting and saving of seed for replanting for another generation is the very foundation of a sustainable food system;
Whereas, the patenting, genetic alteration, and ownership of seeds that consequently contaminate conventional and organic crops grown in Benton County is antithetical to a sustainable food system. Involuntary contamination of crops results in growers’ inability to harvest or replant their own seed, and loss of revenue from sale to markets that refuse to accept GMO-contaminated and trans-genetic risk seed products. It also results in litigation costs that must be borne by the grower against those holding GMO seed patents; all of which threatens the economic viability of Benton County farmers and growers;
Whereas, unsustainable farming practices pose significant threats to the health, safety, and welfare of residents, natural communities, and ecosystems within Benton County, and those practices violate the right of the people of Benton County to a sustainable food system;
Whereas, genetically engineered life forms and genetically modified organisms pose a significant risk to the health and well-being of the residents, natural communities, and ecosystems - including living soils, water, and air - within Benton County;
Whereas, the farming of genetically modified organisms, and the associated increased use of herbicides and pesticides that disrupt natural soil fertility and bioactivity, pose significant risks to sustainable food systems through irreversible alteration and contamination of soil life forms and the natural ecology of living soil systems;
Whereas, genetically modified life forms pose significant risks to sustainable food systems through irreversible contamination of crops and related species due to pollen drift; dispersal by insects, birds, rodents; and accidental spills from combines, trucks, and processing facilities; and genetically modified life forms have crossed with crops and weeds of similar species;
Whereas, the farming of genetically modified organisms poses a significant threat to nearby farmers’ ability to attain or retain organic certification, and to sell either conventional or organic crops where genetically engineered contamination is prohibited, while previous farming practices without genetically engineered crops pose no such threats; thus conventional and organic crops cannot co-exist with genetically engineered crops of the same or similar species without causing harm to a sustainable food system, seed heritage and/or the economic viability of organic or conventional farm operations; - 2 -
Whereas, the people of Benton County understand that meaningful lawmaking which curtails the authority of agribusiness corporations to engage in unsustainable farming practices - such as obtaining patents on genetically engineered living processes and organisms like seeds - may run afoul of claimed corporate rights or powers. And the people understand further that those rights and powers are routinely used to usurp the rights of people, their communities, natural communities, and ecosystems and thus prevent people from addressing local concerns, such as sustainable food systems and seed heritage; and the people understand further that such rights and powers include the ability to wield licenses, the constitutional rights of persons, and the legal doctrine of preemption to strike local ordinances that weigh the pertinent health, safety, and welfare concerns differently from how they are weighed by other levels of government; and
Whereas, this Ordinance is enacted pursuant to the inherent and inalienable right of the residents of Benton County to govern their own county, including, without limitation, as 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, the people of Benton County do ordain, through this Ordinance, which shall be known and cited as the Benton County Food Bill of Rights Ordinance.
Section 1. Findings and Intent
The people of Benton County declare that we possess the right to community self-government and that our right to local self-governance is a fundamental and inalienable right. We assert that right to adopt this ordinance, which creates a food bill of rights for the people of the County, and which protects seed heritage. We find that corporate involvement in agriculture interferes with our right to local self-government, given the ability of corporations to use their wealth and power to determine agricultural policy. Those corporate agricultural policies include laws and regulations which permit genetic engineering and genetic modification of life forms and organisms, and which allow the use of such life forms and organisms.
Accordingly, the people of Benton County adopt this ordinance, which prohibits corporations from engaging in the planting, growing, cultivating, raising, harvesting, or processing of genetically engineered life forms or genetically modified organisms. To effectuate these prohibitions, the people of Benton County have determined that we must elevate our right to community self-government above the “rights” claimed by corporations; otherwise our right to local self-governance shall be forever subordinated to governance by a corporate few, which is not a democracy.
Section 2. Authority
This Ordinance is enacted pursuant to the inherent right of the residents of Benton County to govern their own county, as recognized by authorities including, without limitation, the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that governments are instituted to secure the rights of people; Section 1 of the Oregon Constitution which recognizes that “all power is inherent in the people”; Article VI, Section 10 of the Oregon Constitution which guarantees home rule powers to Counties; and Section 203.035 of Chapter 203 of the Oregon Revised Statutes, which grants counties ordinance-making power to address matters of county concern. - 3 -
Section 3. Definitions
(a) “Corporation”: Shall refer to any corporation, limited partnership, limited liability partnership, business trust, or limited liability corporation organized under the laws of any State of the United States or under the laws of any country, and any other business entity that possesses government-conferred limited liability attributes for its owners, directors, officers, and /or managers.
(b) “Food”: All things edible that are locally grown, raised, harvested, collected, prepared, or processed for consumption.
(c) “Genetically Engineered Organism” or “Genetically Modified Life Form”: Any organism or organisms in which the genetic material has been changed through the application of:
(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 also include all equivalent terms, and may interchangeably be referred to as “GMO’s” or “genetically engineered” or “genetically modified” life forms. The phrase shall not include traditional selective breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, or tissue culture.
(d) “In vitro nucleic acid techniques”: This phrase shall include, but not be not limited to, recombinant DNA or RNA techniques that use vector systems and techniques involving the direct introduction into the organisms of hereditary materials prepared outside the organisms such as micro-injection, macro-injection, chemoporation, electroporation, microencapsulation, and liposome fusion.
(e) “Living Soils”: Biologically and chemically resilient, balanced communities of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, worms, and other soil organisms, cycling minerals necessary for a nutritionally dense food system. The phrase shall not include any soils that contain Genetically Modified Organisms or accompanying pesticides.
(f) “Locally Grown, Raised, Harvested, Collected, Prepared, or Processed”: The phrase shall include, but not be limited to, all foods grown, raised, harvested, collected, prepared, or processed within Benton County.
(g) “Organism”: Any biological entity capable of replication, reproduction, or transferring genetic material, exclusive of human beings and human fetuses. The term organism shall include seeds.
(h) “Seed Heritage”: Seeds inherited from family or community, generation after generation, carefully stewarded by the inheritors so they can be passed to future generations, are adapted to the local climate, are held in the commons, usually by a family or community, or by seed growers that specialize in open-pollinated and heritage seed.
(i) “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 inalienable right to Sustainable Food Systems and Seed Heritage; which provides a viable income for farming and harvesting families; which meets all applicable state and federal pollution control requirements for farming and food processing practices; which maintains plants, soil, air, water, and animals free from genetic modifications; which is free from the application of sewage sludge as - 4 -
well as urban and industrial waste not properly composted; and that provides for the humane treatment of livestock.
(j) “Sustainable Food System”: A food system that recognizes the rights of the people to sustainable agriculture, to seed heritage, and to biologically resilient living soils, while not violating the right of natural communities and ecosystems to exist, persist, and flourish, and which promotes biodiversity, resilience, and nutrient density while providing for the social, equitable, economic, nutritional and cultural enhancements of the quality of life in Benton County.
(k) “Trans genetic risk”: A crop including, but not limited to, corn, soy, flax, canola, wheat, and beets that have been genetically modified, making all seeds of those crops and related crops subject to traces of that alteration.
Section 4. Food Bill of Rights
a) Right to Sustainable Food Systems: All residents of Benton County possess the fundamental and inalienable right to access, use, consume, produce, harvest, collect, process, and distribute foods generated from sustainable agriculture and sustainable food systems. This right shall include the right to be free from unsustainable food systems and unsustainable agricultural practices, which interfere with the right of Benton County residents to a sustainable food system.
b) Right to Seed Heritage: All residents of Benton County possess the inalienable right to save, preserve, protect, collect, harvest, and distribute all seeds grown within Benton County as essential to maintaining a sustainable food system. This includes, but is not limited to, the right to be free from infection, infestation, or drift by any means from genetically engineered life forms or genetically modified organisms.
c) Rights of Natural Communities: Natural communities and ecosystems within Benton County, including living soils and other terrestrial systems and aquatic systems such as aquifers, streams, rivers, and wetlands, and the systems of life that inhabit them, possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist, persist, maintain themselves, and regenerate their own vital cycles, structure, functions, and evolutionary processes within Benton County. Natural communities and ecosystems possess an inalienable right to be free from the patenting or ownership of their genetic essence. Residents of Benton County shall possess legal standing to enforce these rights of natural communities and ecosystems, regardless of their relationship to them as property.
d) Right to Self-Government: All residents of Benton County possess the fundamental and inalienable right to a form of governance where they live which recognizes that all power is inherent in the people, that all free governments are founded on the people’s authority and consent, and that corporate entities and their directors and managers shall not enjoy special privileges or powers under the law which make community majorities subordinate to them.
e) People are Sovereign: Benton County shall be the governing authority responsible to, and governed by, the residents of Benton County. Use of the Benton County municipal corporation by the sovereign people of Benton County to make law shall not be construed to limit or surrender the sovereign authority or immunities of the people to a municipal corporation that is subordinate to them in all respects at all times. The people at all times enjoy and retain an inalienable and indefeasible right to self-governance in the community where they reside.
f) Rights are Self-Executing: All rights delineated and secured by this ordinance shall be self-executing, and these rights shall be enforceable against both public and private actors, and shall not require implementing legislation for their enforceability. - 5 -
Section 5. Prohibitions Necessary to Secure the Food Bill of Rights
(a) It shall be unlawful for any corporation or governmental entity to engage in the planting, growing, cultivating, raising, rearing, or harvesting of genetically engineered life forms or genetically modified organisms within Benton County. The phrase “engage in” shall include, but not be limited to, the sale and/or patenting of the genetically engineered life form or genetically modified organism, which is used for planting, growing, cultivating, raising, rearing, or harvesting within Benton County.
(b) No resident, farmer, or locally owned business within Benton County shall be liable to any corporation claiming loss of income or commercial infringement resulting from the inadvertent infection of agricultural crops by genetically engineered life forms or genetically modified organisms.
(c) No permit, license, privilege, or charter issued by any State or federal agency, International Body, Commission, or Board to any person or any corporation operating under a State charter, or any director, officer, owner, or manager of a corporation operating under a State charter, which would violate the prohibitions of this Ordinance or deprive any resident(s), natural community, or ecosystem within Benton County of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by this Ordinance, the Oregon Constitution, the United States Constitution, or other laws, shall be deemed valid within Benton County.
(d) Corporations engaged in the planting, growing, cultivating, raising, rearing, or harvesting of genetically engineered life forms or genetically modified organisms in any municipality adjacent to Benton County whose activities result in genetically modified organisms entering Benton County shall be strictly liable for damages caused by that entry, including, but not limited to, any loss of income or commercial infringement.
Section 6. Implementation
(a) Existing, non-perennial genetically modified organisms and genetically engineered life forms within Benton County must be harvested, or removed from Benton County, within six months after the effective date of this Ordinance.
(b) Existing, perennial genetically modified organisms and genetically engineered life forms within Benton County must be destroyed within six months of the effective date of this Ordinance.
(c) Six (6) months after the effective date of this Ordinance, owners of patents of genetically modified organisms and genetically engineered life forms which exist 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, shall be liable for the costs of clean-up and removal, and the costs of contamination of lands, seeds, or organisms owned by residents, corporations, or governmental entities within the County.
(d) Any trans genetic risk seed must be tested by a reputable lab prior to planting in Benton County to show that it is free of traces of genetic modification, and these tests must be available to the public.
Section 7. Enforcement
(a) 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. - 6 -
(b) For three years following enactment of this Ordinance, all locations where genetically modified organisms and genetically engineered life forms have been grown, processed, or stored must be monitored by landowners for volunteer seedlings, re-growth of forage sod, stump sprouting, or perennials such as alfalfa. Fines established by Benton County shall be imposed on landowners for allowing re-growth of genetically modified organisms and genetically engineered life forms on lands formerly and intentionally planted with them. Cross-pollination or contamination of non-genetically modified organisms or non-genetically engineered life forms from re-established genetically modified organisms and genetically engineered life forms shall be cause for penalty and restitution.
(c) 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.
(d) Any action brought to remedy the violation of the rights of natural communities or ecosystems shall list the natural community or ecosystem as a plaintiff in the action, damages sought must bear a relationship to the damage inflicted upon the natural community or ecosystem, and awarded damages must be payable to the municipality for the restricted use of repairing the natural community or ecosystem.
(e) Corporations engaged in activities prohibited by this Ordinance, or seeking to engage in activities that would violate the prohibitions of this Ordinance, shall not have the rights of “persons” nor access to legal protections afforded to persons by the United States and Oregon Constitutions, nor shall those corporations be afforded rights under the 1st or 5th or 11th amendments to the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Oregon Constitution, nor shall those corporations be afforded the protections of the Commerce or Contracts clauses within the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Oregon Constitution.
(f) Corporations engaged in activities prohibited by this Ordinance, or seeking to engage in activities that would violate the prohibitions of this Ordinance, shall not possess the authority or power to enforce federal or state preemptive law against the people of Benton County, or to challenge or overturn this Ordinance, or any rules or regulations implemented to enforce this Ordinance, when that enforcement or challenge interferes with the rights asserted by this Ordinance or interferes with the authority of Benton County to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its residents.
Section 8. People’s Right to Self-Government
The foundation for the making and adoption of this Ordinance is the people’s fundamental and inalienable right to govern themselves, and thereby secure their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 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 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.
Section 9. Oregon Constitutional Changes
Through the adoption of this ordinance, the people of Benton County call for state recognition of municipal food bills of rights. Accordingly, the people of Benton County call for changes to be made to the Oregon Constitution which recognize and secure a community right to local self-government that cannot be preempted by the State if the community’s laws enforce standards and rights more protective of the health, safety, and welfare of the people of Benton County and the natural environment. The people of the County also call for state constitutional changes that elevate community rights above those claimed by corporations when - 7 -
community rights conflict with corporate privileges, and that recognize the rights of nature enforceable by the residents of a community.
Section 10. 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 11. 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 12. Effect
This Ordinance shall take effect 90 days after adoption.