Rene Walter/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Oregon farmers and the public are celebrating a major victory after Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the HB 2427 bill into law on Wednesday. This means that commercial production of canola will be banned in the Willamette Valley Protected District until 2019. The moratorium follows the positive outcome of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) against the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), which had sought to allow canola production in a region where it has long been under a ban.

The lawsuit was triggered by the February ruling of the ODA, which would have opened the way to canola planting despite fierce public opposition. Last August, the ODA sought to introduce canola production in the Willamette Valley from the fall of 2012. Acting on behalf of local growers, the CFS and Friends of Family Farmers challenged the temporary rule and their appeal succeeded. However, the ODA continued to pursue its goal and proposed that planting start in the spring of 2013. This led to the lawsuit filed by the CFS on April 25, 2013.

The Willamette Valley Protected District spans three million acres and is considered one of the most important vegetable seed producing regions in the world. The strong objections of local seed and organic vegetable farmers are based on the dangers canola, or rapeseed, pose to key regional crops. As the CFS told the court, canola readily cross-pollinates with broccoli, kale, cabbage and other brassica specialty seed crops. It also spreads diseases and pests to such crops and can contaminate vegetable and clover seed plots, killing sales of the products in domestic and foreign markets. With most canola being genetically engineered, this creates the added risk of cross-pollination with weeds, leading to the emergence of herbicide resistance in native weed populations.

RELATED: Food processing industry challenged by demand for healthy, stable oils

CFS senior attorney George Kimbrell hailed the decision of Oregonian lawmakers and the state governor, describing it as the right course of action. The new law will offer protection to the valuable Willamette Valley industry and this key agricultural market will remain a major state revenue contributor and jobs creator, he said. In addition to removing the danger for farmers, the law will also safeguard the environment. Thanks to the joint efforts of the CFS, local farmers and allies, the ODA has been prevented from enforcing its disastrous decision and canola will be kept out of Willamette Valley, Kimbrell added.

Ivan Maluski, policy director at Friends of Family Farmers, joined Kimbrell in lauding Governor Kitzhaber for his decision to sign the bill into law. Maluski also stressed the dangers presented by canola, pointing to the cross-pollination risk and the additional pest and disease burden that would place on key regional crops. The ideal scenario would be a long-term ban on canola production in Willamette Valley but the new law is a step in the right direction. It means that the region's valuable specialty seed, fresh market vegetable and organic industries are offered certainty and protection for several years while future measures are being considered. Any decisions made have to follow the principles of rigorous, peer-reviewed science, Maluski pointed out.