- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - A settlement was reached Monday in a federal lawsuit challenging an Oregon county’s ban on genetically engineered crops.

Two alfalfa farms in Jackson County have agreed not to appeal an earlier court ruling that upheld the voter-approved ban. In exchange, the county won’t force growers who already planted genetically engineered alfalfa to quickly remove their crops.

Those farmers have agreed not to plant any more genetically engineered crops and to switch their fields out of that alfalfa after no more than eight years.

Jackson County commissioners and a federal court magistrate must OK the settlement before it takes effect.

Bruce Schulz of Gold Hill and James and Marilyn Frink of Sams Valley filed suit a year ago, saying the GMO ban violated their “right to farm” under state law and the loss of crops would cause financial hardship.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke in May dismissed the farmers’ arguments, but their claim seeking $4.2 million in compensation from Jackson County had remained in play.

The attorney for the growers, Shannon Armstrong, said in a statement the deal “provides welcome relief” because the farmers can grow valuable crops planted before the law was passed.

The state Legislature approved a bill two years ago that prohibits local governments from regulating genetically engineered crops. An exception was made for Jackson County because its measure had already qualified for the May 2014 ballot.

Voters in the southwest Oregon county approved the measure by a 2-1 margin.

Elise Higley, director of the Our Family Farms Coalition, said the settlement supports the will of voters and “protects farmers growing traditional crops from contamination by genetically engineered crops.”

Though genetically engineered crops are common and no mainstream science has shown they are unsafe, opponents contend GMOs are still experimental and promote the use of pesticides.

“We may have very different opinions about genetically engineered crops, but this is a settlement that is fair, reasonable and lets the county move forward in a way that is good for Jackson County’s agricultural future,” Higley said.

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Follow Steven DuBois at twitter.com/pdxdub

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