SALEM — Biotech patent holders would be legally responsible for losses caused by their genetically engineered crops in Oregon under a bill that's survived a crucial legislative deadline.
House Bill 2739 would allow landowners to sue biotech patent holders for the unwanted presence of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, on their land.
The bill has now been referred to the House Rules Committee, which isn't subject to an April 18 legislative deadline that recently killed other proposals.
The move could effectively allows HB 2739 to stay alive through the end of the 2017 legislative session, scheduled to end in late June.
However, the House Judiciary Committee made the referral without a "do pass" recommendation, and even then, two of its 11 members voted against the action.
It's unfair to punish biotech developers — who range from small start-ups to major corporations — for what happens with crops they have little control over, said Rep. Rich Vial, R-Scholls, who voted against HB 2739.
The proposal should have been vetted by a committee with experience in agriculture, said Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, who also voted against it.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, and Rep. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, expressed similar concerns about the bill, though they voted in favor of the referral.
Even though the bill wasn't sent to the House Rules Committee "with a bow on top," recommending passage, it's nonetheless good news for the Center for Food Safety, a group that supports more GMO regulation, said Amy van Saun, legal fellow with the organization.
"For me, it was a great sign that it wasn't allowed to die," said van Saun.
Amendments to the bill are being discussed, but those remain confidential, she said.
Class action lawsuits have already been filed over GMO contamination of non-biotech crops, but HB 2739 would provide farmers with legal recourse in more limited instances of cross-pollination, she said.
"We would be a pioneer in doing something like this," van Saun said.
Oregonians for Food and Shelter, an agribusiness group, is disappointed that such poorly-written legislation is moving forward in the process, said Scott Dahlman, the group's policy director.
No states have passed a law that would hold biotech patent holders liable similarly to HB 2739, he said.