Benton County, Oregon: Developing the Community Right to Food Security and Self-Governance

What do you get when you tell a group of family farmers they can't even collect signatures for a proposed community ordinance?  A group of feisty farmers.   The Benton County Community Rights Coalition (BCCRC) isn't letting a lack of democracy get them down. 

As reported in the Dec. 6th, 2012 Corvallis Advocate,

"Monsanto continues to level court cases against farmers who unknowingly grow GMO varieties of the company’s seeds, often due to contamination by pollination or wind drift. Organic and conventional farmers have essentially no legal protections from GMO contamination and the economic losses that occur due to legal battles with this corporation and others.

Supporters say the Food Bill of Rights ordinance elevates the rights of local citizens and ecosystems, and excludes the planting of GMO crops in Benton County.

The Initiative has been submitted to Benton County Elections and was challenged under the Single Subject Rule required by Oregon election law. The Chief Petitioners have filed an appeal and are responding in court. The question now is whether the Court will rule in time to issue the Ballot Petition for signature gathering in time to meet the deadline to qualify for the May 2013 ballot."

This determined group of family farmers has devised a clever way of addressing the crop contamination issue - a "Food Bill of Rights".  The Bill would create local control of an issue that is currently overruled by big-government-backed, multi-national corporate interests.

It's a radical concept.  The "Bill of Rights" goal is to return the power of governance to the local people.  More and more, that's a notion that communities around the country are demanding.

Read on for the details of the Benton County Food  Bill of Rights.

An Ordinance of Benton County: A Food Bill  of Rights

Right to Sustainable Food Systems: All residents of Benton County possess the fundamental and inalienable right to access, use, consume, produce, harvest, collect, process, and distribute foods generated from sustainable agriculture and sustainable food systems. This right shall include the right to be free from unsustainable food systems and unsustainable agricultural practices, which interfere with the right of Benton County residents to a sustainable food system.

Right to Seed Heritage: All residents of Benton County possess the inalienable right to save, preserve, protect, collect, harvest, and distribute all seeds grown within Benton County as essential to maintaining a sustainable food system. This includes, but is not limited to, the right to be free from infection, infestation, or drift by any means from genetically engineered life forms or genetically modified organisms.

Rights of Natural Communities: Natural communities and ecosystems within Benton County, including living soils and other terrestrial systems and aquatic systems such as aquifers, streams, rivers, and wetlands, and the systems of life that inhabit them, possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist, persist, maintain themselves, and regenerate their own vital cycles, structure, functions, and evolutionary processes within Benton County. Natural communities and ecosystems possess an inalienable right to be free from the patenting or ownership of their genetic essence. Residents of Benton County shall possess legal standing to enforce these rights of natural communities and ecosystems, regardless of their relationship to them as property.

Right to Self-Government: All residents of Benton County possess the fundamental and inalienable right to a form of governance where they live which recognizes that all power is inherent in the people, that all free governments are founded on the people’s authority and consent, and that corporate entities and their directors and managers shall not enjoy special privileges or powers under the law which make community majorities subordinate to them.

People are Sovereign: Benton County shall be the governing authority responsible to, and governed by, the residents of Benton County. Use of the Benton County Municipal Corporation by the sovereign people of Benton County to make law shall not be construed to limit or surrender the sovereign authority or immunities of the people to a municipal corporation that is subordinate to them in all respects at all times. The people at all times enjoy and retain an inalienable and indefeasible right to self-governance in the community where they reside.

Rights are Self-Executing: All rights delineated and secured by this ordinance shall be self-executing, and these rights shall be enforceable against both public and private actors, and shall not require implementing legislation for their enforceability.

Excerpt Section 4:  An Ordinance of Benton County, Oregon - A Food Bill of Rights

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