Agency's control over modified crops is limited

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 7, 2014 at 4:03 pm •  Published: July 7, 2014
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon agriculture officials say the state has no authority over genetically modified crops once federal regulators deem them safe for commercial use.

In a letter to Gov. John Kitzhaber, the Oregon Department of Agriculture said state law allows it to create "control areas" for genetically engineered crops to deal with pests and disease. But it can create such areas only for GE crops that are in the trial phase.

Officials say once a GE crop is "deregulated" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it is deemed not to be a carrier of pests or disease — and the state loses authority over the crop.

In October, Kitzhaber directed the state Agriculture Department to use its authority to deal with conflicts between GE and non-GE crops, including by creating a statewide mapping system for GMO field locations, establishing buffer zones and exclusion areas.

But the department's letter to Kitzhaber shows its authority for dealing with GE issues is limited.

The governor also announced the creation of a task force to study issues related to GMOs, such as mapping and labeling.

The move was spurred by several instances of genetic contamination in the region that rendered non-engineered crops unsellable on the export market. It came after lawmakers adopted a bill to ban county governments from regulating GMOs on their own.

Jackson County was exempted from the law because a measure already had qualified for the ballot. Residents in that county voted to ban genetically engineered crops in May.