By Carey Gillam
(Reuters) - A U.S. farm group, seed producers and biotech critics filed suit on Wednesday against Oregon officials in an effort to curtail planting of genetically modified canola, warning of a potential "disaster" for the state's seed and organic industries.
The litigation joins a long list of efforts to limit the footprint of many genetically altered crops, which opponents fear are threatening conventional and organic farm production as well as increasing weed and pest resistance.
The plaintiffs are seeking a stay on a move by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to issue a temporary rule opening previously protected zones for canola planting.
The state does not distinguish between biotech or conventional canola in its rule. Officials had banned the planting of all canola on more than 3 million acres (1.3 million hectares) in Oregon's Willamette Valley to protect specialty vegetable seed producers who feared contamination by the plant, which cross-pollinates easily.
In opening 1.7 million acres in the restricted zone for canola planting, the state said it would require canola and specialty seed producers to report where and what they intend to grow.
But thousands of people have signed on to petition the move, and critics say they fear contamination of specialty crops with biotech canola that has been genetically altered to withstand Roundup herbicide. They worry about the creation of resistant weed species and the proliferation of disease and pests.
Backers of genetically modified crops say biotechnology makes farming more efficient and sustainable, and that it increases production.
Even conventional canola can harm specialty seed producers because of its rampant cross-pollination, said Leah Rodgers, field director for the advocacy group Friends of Family Farmers, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
"We had no other option than to go to the courts," Rodgers said. "This could mean disaster for Oregon's seed and organic industries."
An ODA spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Center for Food Safety, also a plaintiff, said canola cross-pollinates with crops such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and turnips. It easily naturalizes as a weed, increasing the chance that canola and canola pollen will become a permanent presence wherever it is grown, that plaintiff said.
The Center for Food Safety is a non-profit organization focused on promoting sustainable agriculture and organics.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Dale Hudson)