There’s law and there’s reality in the first Oregon county with a voter-approved law to ban genetically engineered crops. The law took effect last Saturday, June 13, but Jackson County is not enforcing it yet. In reality, the ordinance could qualify as a “regulatory taking” under the U.S. Constitution, meaning that local taxpayers may have to pay farmers with genetically modified crops $4.2 million. Until they know their exposure on that score, Jackson County isn’t going to be hunting down crops with genetically modified organisms (GMO) and destroying them. JacksonCounty_406x250Jackson County commissioners are also worried about annual costs to enforce the unusual law, estimated at $200,000 a year. That represents almost one-third of the commissioner’s own budget in a county only now recovering from the last recession. Since local bans on GMOs have popped up in Hawaii and Oregon, two federal district courts have ruled on the issues, and while the outcomes were different, the decisions were consistent. In Hawaii, U.S. Federal Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren ruled in late 2014 that Hawaii County’s ban was invalid because it conflicted with state law. Then last month in Oregon, U.S. Federal Magistrate Mark Clarke ruled the Jackson County ban did not conflict with the state’s “right to farm” law because the legislature had specifically excluded Jackson County from the 2013 law that preempts local governments from regulating biotech crops. In other words, both federal judges upheld the respective states on their GMO policies. Most troubling for Jackson County is that Clarke allowed the “takings” claim to go forward. Syngenta, the Swiss-based biotech company, was leasing test plots in Jackson County before the GMO ban, but it has not stayed around to fight or collect. It terminated its leases and vacated the county. Left behind are Jackson County’s mostly alfalfa growers who have filed the “takings” claim. The Jackson County Farm Bureau estimates there may be 2,000 to 3,000 acres of GMO crops, predominantly corn and alfalfa, in the county. While most authorities say foods with GMOs are no more or less safe than any other food, including organic food, the Center for Food Safety has intervened in defense of the Jackson County ordinance. Jackson County is big in forestry and tourism, but only about 12 percent of its 2,802-square-mile area, or about 214,079 acres, is dedicated to agricultural use. USDA’s Census of Agriculture for 2012 reported there were 36 organic producers in Jackson County at the time, with total sales of $3.36 million. Benton County, one of Oregon’s larger ag counties, last month rejected by a 73-percent margin a ballot measure to ban biotech crops. The county is also home to Oregon State University, one of the nation’s top ag research centers. Even if the measure had passed, it would likely have been struck down by the courts because the state has preempted local action. One other county in southwestern Oregon, Josephine County, passed a GMO crop ban in 2013, but it’s proven tough to enforce.