E-Newsletter Volume 7, No. #8




Representative Brad Witt
District 31

Phone: 503-986-1431    900 Court St. NE, H-374, Salem Oregon 97301
Email: rep.bradwitt@state.or.us    Website: http://www.leg.state.or.us/witt
State Seal
March 22, 2013              E-Newsletter              Volume 7, No. 8

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Hi Everyone,


This week has been marked by some remarkable participation in my Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee largely because the subject matter is both timely and controversial.  On Tuesday, two hearing rooms were filled to capacity when we listened to opinions regarding the feasibility of allowing canola to be grown in the Willamette Valley.  On Thursday, we held hearings on Genetically Engineered Foods and the sale and labeling of those products.  I’ll start with our Thursday hearing first…

Four bills have been introduced:  HB 2175, HB2532, HB 3177 and HB 2530, one of which pertains to genetically modified foods in general, but the other three focus on how this practice might affect the salmon industry in Oregon.  These bills range in scope from mere labeling to an outright ban of any product with a genetically engineered component. Understandably, we are extremely protective of our wild salmon and any threat to this iconic creature would endanger a major industry within our northwest economy.

The Committee posed many questions to those who came to testify:  Is there a scientific justification to limit either the production and/or labeling of genetically engineered fish?  Can we legally ban a product on the basis of anything other than food safety?  Is aqua-culture (raising fish within a self-contained water system) environmentally and biologically safe?  Here are some pros and cons as we heard them: 

Opponents to genetically modified fish:

  • Growth in GM fish is of great concern to the fishing industry and the tribes who depend upon this economy
  • Escapement of Atlantic salmon could contaminate our native fish population
  • Larger engineered fish could be an aggressive competitor for habitat
  • Consumers deserve to know where their food is grown and under what conditions

Proponents of genetically modified fish:

  • Bills banning GM fish are not necessary because they will not be grown in Oregon but in self-contained structures in Panama
  • GM fish will enable us to increase the food supply, increase efficiency and decrease the pressure on the wild fish industry
  • There is no threat to Pacific Salmon from Atlantic Salmon as they are a different genus and therefore incapable of interbreeding
  • The FDA does not require separate labeling because studies have shown that there is no substantial difference

During this hearing we heard from Dr. Allison VanEenennaam who tried to help us sort fact from fiction.  She is a geneticist from UC Davis, specializing in Animal Biotechnology and Genomics.  We also heard from John DiLorenzo, with Oregonians for Food and Shelter.  He cautioned us regarding imposing labels on genetically engineered foods based on three provisions in the Constitution:

     1. The First Amendment:  Speech (in this case, labeling) can neither be restricted nor compelled.  Furthermore, consumer curiosity and consumer interest are not sufficient to compel speech.
     2. Supremacy Clause:  Bills requiring labeling are preempted by federal law because the FDA has jurisdition over these matters.
     3. The Commerce Clause:  A complete ban on GE foods would impose an undue burden on interstate commerce
     4. The Hawaii Attorney General recently issued an opinion that found similar labeling and importing restrictions unconstitutional based on previous points 1-3

After hearing the testimony, the Committee decided to consult our own Legislative Counsel, to determine the constitutionality of these measures.  We will decide the merits of these bills once we have had time to consider all the facts.

On Tuesday, we had over four hours of testimony on HB 2427, which would prohibit the growing of canola in the Willamette Valley. This bill arose from a new Department of Agriculture rule that will come into effect later this year. That rule would allow up to 2,500 acres of canola around the edges of the valley.

Supporters of the bill say canola production has the potential of destroying or severely damaging the specialty seed industry. Many of these seeds come from brassica plants, things like broccoli, cabbage, and turnips which are all closely related to canola. This relation has the potential for cross-pollination or seed contamination in those specialty seeds that would greatly reduce price and demand for Oregon seeds.

Those who oppose the ban tended to be grass seed growers who want to use it as a rotation crop to break up pests and disease cycles in their fields. Their main argument stressed that for the last twenty years canola has been grown in the middle of the valley under a program run by Oregon State University and the Department of Agriculture. Further, adding a valuable commodity crop to their rotation cycle boosts the economic output the year they plant canola and the years after as grass and canola have vastly different nutritional needs and pest problems.

Issues like this force us to carefully weigh and measure the potential impacts to a globally known and established specialty seed industry and the loss of new economic development that growing and processing canola provides. The jury, and the science, are still out on what the impacts of raising canola in these outer areas will be. Our committee will continue to listen to both sides, paying particular attention to our university scientists, in order to come up with a solution that will best serve our state.

Please enjoy the pictures that follow, and have a great weekend!



This week I had a great meeting with several AFSCME members and many of them are Columbia County residents.  From left:  Darrel Willis, City of Portland Water Bureau, Evan Wickersham, Oregon AFSCME, Council Representative, Tristan Wood, Columbia County Road Department, Pam Benham, Columbia County Courthouse, Jeff Peterson, Columbia County Road Department, Andrew Wendelschafer, City of Portland Water Bureau, Cherie Moylan, Columbia County Road Department.


Terese Scollard, Registered Dietician and Sareena Smith-Bucholz, OHSU Dietetic Intern, paid me a visit and advocated for the importance of Nutrition programs on Registered Dieticians Day at the Capitol.

empty bowls

The Seventh Annual Empty Bowls Fundraiser for the Columbia Pacific Food Bank had another successful event.  Volunteers and donations poured in, including food from various businesses, handmade ceramic bowls from St. Helens High School students and entertainment from the wonderful group above:  SoundFX which is a vocal ensemble from St. Helens High School.  Already looking forward to next year's event!


vault car

This was the first car manufactured in Oregon.

vault iron

Since I love history I was honored to be a guest at the Oregon Historical Society's Vault tour.  I got a kick out out of holding a branding iron that Captain Meriwether Lewis carried from 1804-1806 during the Voyage of Discovery.  This iron had many uses including marking trees.