‘Canada has just detonated a bomb’: Trade relations with U.S. plummet after WTO complaint

Original Article

OTTAWA — Canada launched the opening salvo in a trade war with the United States Wednesday, lodging an international complaint about the superpower’s use of punitive duties.

The move drew a sharp rebuke from Donald Trump’s trade czar and came amid reports that Canadian government officials say there’s an increasing likelihood the president will withdraw from the three-nation North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Even if Canada succeeded on these groundless claims, other countries would primarily benefit, not Canada. Canada’s complaint is bad for Canada,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

“Canada’s claims are unfounded and could only lower U.S. confidence that Canada is committed to mutually beneficial trade.”

Canada lodged a World Trade Organization complaint accusing the U.S. of regularly breaching international trade laws through various countervailing and anti-dumping duties, citing nearly 200 examples spanning several decades.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “This WTO action is part of our broader litigation to defend the hundreds of thousands of good, middle class forestry jobs across our country.”

RATIONALE

Canada cited five reasons for the complaint, saying the U.S. levies penalties beyond what’s allowed by the WTO, improperly calculates rates, unfairly declares penalties retroactive, limits evidence from outside parties, and has a tilted voting system in domestic trade panels that, in the case of a 3-3 tie, awards the win to American companies.

The complaint marks Canada’s most exhaustive attempt yet to counter recent import duties imposed by the U.S., particularly on Canadian softwood lumber products.

“It’s (saying), ‘The entire way in which the U.S. — you — are conducting your anti-dumping, countervailing procedures, is wrong,”’ said Chad Bown, a trade expert at Washington’s Peterson Institute. “This is effectively Canada bringing a dispute on behalf of all exporters in the world — the Europeans, Japan, China — because they’re making a systemic challenge.”

Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations called it a precarious moment for NAFTA and the global trading system, both of which are under threats and criticism from Trump: “Canada has just detonated a bomb under both.”

Ottawa’s ramped-up efforts come amid an increasingly fragile trade relationship between the two countries. The Canadian government is preparing for the possibility that Trump will withdraw from NAFTA, senior officials say, though they aren’t entirely convinced that he will.

After reports Wednesday that Canada now considered it inevitable that Trump would try to withdraw the U.S. from the treaty, one Canadian official with knowledge of the NAFTA negotiation offered a more nuanced position in an email to the Post, saying, “it’s not accurate to say we’re convinced,” but that there was “no question we think there’s a chance it could happen.”

The confusion over Canadian expectations comes ahead of the next round of negotiations, scheduled to be held in Montreal Jan. 23-28.

Trump withdrawing from NAFTA “was always a risk, but that risk is clearly more elevated now,” said Brian DePratto, senior economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank.

IMPORT DUTIES

An official with the Foreign Affairs Ministry said Ottawa’s most recent complaint aims to add weight to Canada’s argument that import duties have been levied unfairly.

But it also goes well beyond Canada-U.S. softwood lumber spats, citing alleged international trade breaches by the U.S. against a host of imported products, from Argentine lemon juice to frozen shrimp from India.

The complaint is “certainly not typical,” said Greg Kanargelidis, an international trade lawyer at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.

Under WTO dispute resolution rules, other countries named in the complaint can decide to take part in consultations after an initial reading.

“In a normal situation you wouldn’t expect this to impact the long-term trading relationship that we’ve got under NAFTA,” he said. “But with the Trump administration being relatively new, and because of the protectionist noises we’ve been hearing from them, it’s not at all clear what sort of reaction the U.S. might have.”

Publication of the complaint came just hours after the U.S. Commerce Department placed preliminary duties on Canadian exports of uncoated groundwood paper, which is used to manufacture newspapers, soft-cover books and phone directories.

Steep import duties leveled by the U.S. have become a regular fixture of the industry, according to Joel Neuheimer, a vice-president at the Forest Products Association of Canada.

“This has been a chronic problem for us,” he said. “It’s the same horror show over and over.”

 

Sexually active students must be reported to law enforcement or state officials, Ore. school district says

Original Article

By Travis M. Andrews


The Salem-Keizer School District Headquarters (Google Maps)

Teachers and staff in the Salem-Keizer school district — which includes more than 40,000 students — were recently told that if they learn or merely suspect a student is sexually active, they must report it to law enforcement or state officials.

According to Oregon law, anyone under 18 years old cannot legally give consent, meaning all sexual activity between minors is considered sexual abuse. This policy, district officials say, stems from Oregon’s mandatory reporting and child abuse laws. But that seems to be a singular interpretation of the law. The Statesman Journal reached out to school districts around the state and found that not one of them had the same mandate.

The subject came up at a training session for teachers and staff in the school district because “we felt like we hadn’t made it clear enough,” as Superintendent Christy Perry told the Statesman Journal.

During the presentation, the district offered several specific examples of when an employee needs to contact law enforcement. These include a 15-year-old telling a teacher that she is having sex with her boyfriend and wants to learn about birth control, or a 17-year-old confiding in a teacher that his 16-year-old girlfriend is pregnant.

Another example: “A 14-year-old boy confides in you that he was kicked out of the house after his parents discovered that he was in a same-sex relationship. During the conversation, the student shares that he has engaged in sexual acts with his partner.”

The district claimed the policy is for the teenagers’ safety.

“Simply reporting to the state doesn’t mean police are going to be knocking on the door of students,” district spokeswoman Lillian Govus told KOIN. “What it does allow for is an abundance of caution in ensuring that our children are safe.”

Many disagree. An online petition calling for an end to the mandate has garnered more than 1,100 signatures. Some gathered on the state capitol steps to protest the policy.

Some pointed out that this leaves high school students without anyone to speak with about sex.

“You can’t have a conversation about safe sex without talking about sex,” Deborah Carnaghi, a program coordinator for Child Protective Services in Oregon’s Department of Human Services, told the Statesman Journal.

Others pointed out that sexual activity among high school students is common.

“We understand that the law for age of consent is at least 18,” Angel Hudson, an 11th-grader at McNary High School in Salem, Ore., wrote in support of the petition. “But we also understand that jaywalking is illegal, and everyone still does that. It’s a matter that occurs far too often to arrest every single jaywalker.”

More than 40 percent of high school students surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported having sex in 2015, which if applied to this particular district, would account for almost 12,000 students. The average age Americans have sex for the first time is 17.3 years old.

“I lose the ability to have a private conversation with a trusted adult who works for the district, about something personal to me,” Hudson added. “Talking about sexual activity between teachers and students should be confidential.”

Some teachers said they would simply ignore the mandate.

“To me, I feel like I’m being told to tell the students to shut up,” a teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Keizertimes. “Teachers are also being told to establish appropriate adult-student connections so that when students come to school they feel safe and cared for. If students have a trusted adult at school that they need to talk with about sex, I see no problem with teachers being that.”

Govus said the district is merely trying to comply with the law.

But the Statesman Journal said it checked with other school districts in the state

“It is not convenient for our educators to report these in all instances and it’s not something that the students desire,” Govus told KOIN. “But for our employees to remain compliant with the law as it is written we must report and that goes for any school district employee [who] must report any sexual activity between minors.”

One parent, though, offered a solution.

“So rather than reporting it to the authorities, use that to gain trust, get insight and educate the kids. That way you’ll know what’s going on,” parent Joyce Stevens told KATU.

Canada’s No-Bullshit Governor General Just Took on Climate Change Deniers, Astrologers

 

Original Article

By George Dvorsky

Julie Payette (Image: Prime Minister’s Office of Canada)

Speaking at a science conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Canada’s newly appointed governor general, Julie Payette, directed some harsh comments towards climate skeptics, astrologists, and believers of “divine intervention.” Critics complained that it’s not the governor general’s place to get involved in such matters, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the speech.

Astronaut Julie Payette of the Canadian Space Agency. (Image: CSA)

That Julie Payette, 54, would be a such staunch supporter of science is hardly a surprise. The computer and electrical engineer flew on two Space Shuttle missions (in 1999 and 2009), logging 25 total days in space. She was appointed governor general on July 13th, 2017 by the Trudeau government, and she hasn’t wasted time in making her mark—particularly when it comes to the promotion of science.

At this week’s Canadian Science Policy Conference, Payette argued for greater public acceptance of science, saying it’s time for Canadians step away from false beliefs such as astrology and divine intervention, while speaking out against people who insist that human activity isn’t responsible for climate change.

Such language isn’t typical of a Canadian governor general. As a state-appointed representative of the Queen, it’s a position of mere symbolic importance. As governor general, Payette is supposed to be an impartial overseer of the democratic process, and not get involved in politics or spiritual matters. That said, there’s nothing in the Canadian constitution that precludes the governor general from speaking out. And indeed, this latest governor general is not like the others, and she’s not holding back.

“So many people…still believe—want to believe—that maybe taking a sugar pill will cure cancer…and that your future [and your personality]…can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations,” she said during the speech. In a clear reference to Creationists, Payette said we’re “still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention,” or whether it came from the natural, random process of Darwinian natural selection.

On the topic of climate change, Payette said: “Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we’re still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period?”

This isn’t the first time that Payette has dared to address climate change, having mentioned it in two of her three previous public engagement (including her acceptance speech as Canada’s new governor general). As Canada’s new GG, she appears to have taken up climate change as a main cause.

Later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Payette’s speech, saying she stands in support of science and the truth. “We are a government grounded in science,” he said. “Canadians are people who understand the value of science and knowledge as a foundation for the future of our country.”

Critics from both the media and within politics wasted no time in attacking the speech, which they criticized for its overreach and insensitivity.

“Those who read and write horoscopes would be entitled to take offence,” saidreporter Aaron Wherry in CBC News. “[And] however strongly one feels about the science of evolution, religious belief might generally be considered sacrosanct, or at least a topic that the appointed occupant of Rideau Hall should avoid commenting on.”

Alise Mills, a political strategist for the Conservative Party, said Payette’s speech inappropriately ventured into politics, and that it was mean spirited. “I definitely agree science is key but I think there is a better way to do that without making fun of other people,” she said.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer blasted into the Prime Minister for his support of the speech. “It is extremely disappointing that the prime minister will not support Indigenous peoples, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Christians and other faith groups who believe there is truth in their religion,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook. “Respect for diversity includes respect for the diversity of religious beliefs, and Justin Trudeau has offended millions of Canadians with his comments‎.”

In his condemnation, Scheer is obviously reading way too much in Payette’s speech, but this episode shows how difficult it is to advocate for science and “the truth” (in Trudeau’s words) without impinging on people’s personal beliefs. Payette’s tone may have been harsh, but in this bewildering era of anti-science, her words were a breath of fresh air.

[CBC News]

 

Justice Department Sides With Baker Who Refused To Make Wedding Cake For Gay Couple

Original Article

By Robert Barnes

In a major upcoming Supreme Court case that weighs equal rights with religious liberty, the Trump administration on Thursday sided with a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The Department of Justice on Thursday filed a brief on behalf of baker Jack Phillips, who was found to have violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to created a cake to celebrate the marriage of Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012. Phillips said he doesn’t create wedding cakes for same-sex couples because it would violate his religious beliefs.

The government agreed with Phillips that his cakes are a form of expression, and he cannot be compelled to use his talents for something in which he does not believe.

“Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights,” Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall wrote in the brief.

Plaintiff in landmark Supreme Court case says: ‘One person can change the world’
The Post’s Steven Petrow sits down with Jim Obergefell, the main plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, and talks about gay marriage, equality for the transgender community and his late husband John.(Video: Erin Patrick O’Connor/Photo: Maddie McGarvey/The Washington Post)

The DOJ’s decision to support Phillips is the latest in a series of steps the Trump administration has taken to rescind Obama administration positions favorable to gay rights and to advance new policies on the issue.

But Louise Melling, the deputy legal counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the couple, said she was taken aback by the filing.

“Even in an administration that has already made its hostility” toward the gay community clear, Melling said, “I find this nothing short of shocking.”

Since taking office, President Trump has moved to block transgender Americans from serving in the military and his Department of Education has done away with guidance to schools on how they should accommodate transgender students.

The DOJ also has taken the stance that gay workers are not entitled to job protections under federal anti-discrimination laws. Since 2015, the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission has taken the opposite stance, saying Title VII, the civil-rights statute that covers workers, protects against bias based on sexual orientation.

Federal courts are split on that issue, and the Supreme Court this term might take up the issue.

Indeed, lawyers for Jameka Evans, who claims she was fired by Georgia Regional Hospital because of her sexual orientation and “nonconformity with gender norms of appearance and demeanor,” on Thursday asked justices to take her case.

Citing a 1979 precedent, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected her protection claims.

Taking that case, along with Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, would make the coming Supreme Court term the most important for gay rights issues since the justices voted 5 to 4 in 2015 to find a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.

The case of Phillips, a baker in the Denver suburbs, is similar to lawsuits brought elsewhere involving florists, calligraphers and others who say providing services to same-sex weddings would violate their religious beliefs. But these objectors have found little success in the courts, which have ruled that businesses serving the public must comply with state anti-discrimination laws.

Mullins and Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012, along with Craig’s mother, to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages were legal at the time, and then hold a reception in Colorado.

But Phillips refused to discuss the issue, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to have anything to do with same-sex marriage. He said other bakeries would accommodate them.

The civil rights commission and a Colorado court rejected Phillips’ argument that forcing him to create a cake violated his First Amendment rights of freedom of expression and exercise of religion.

The court said the baker “does not convey a message supporting same-sex marriages merely by abiding by the law.”

Los Angeles Cancels Columbus Day

Original Article

Columbus Day is no more in the nation’s second-largest city.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 on Wednesday to officially mark the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day on the city’s calendar — a day to commemorate “indigenous, aboriginal and native people.” The day will remain a paid holiday for city employees, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The vote followed a contentious hearing, during which some Italian-Americans said the switch would eradicate a key portion of their history, while others argued that city lawmakers needed to “dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of genocide of indigenous peoples” and dismissed the idea of celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day on a different date altogether.

“To make us celebrate on any other day would be a further injustice,” said Chrissie Castro, vice chairwoman of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a member of Oklahoma’s Wyandotte Nation tribe, had pushed for the change, saying Wednesday that the move would provide “restorative justice.” In a blog post prior to the vote earlier this week, O’Farrell said the “historical record is unambiguous in documenting the horrors” Christopher Columbus and his men imposed on the native people in present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Los Angeles Councilman Mitch O’Farrell -Getty Images

“Removing Columbus Day and replacing it with Indigenous Peoples Day is the appropriate action for this city to take,” O’Farrell wrote. “We must send a signal to Washington D.C. that there is no better day to honor our original inhabitants while highlighting the absurdity of celebrating a historical figure responsible for such profound suffering, still felt by generations of Indigenous People everywhere. This is more than symbolic. It is spiritually and morally necessary.”

Councilman Joe Buscaino, a first-generation Italian-American, suggested replacing Columbus Day with a new name to celebrate “all of the diverse cultures in the city” before being the lone city lawmaker to oppose the switch, asking fellow councilors not to “cure one offense with another.”

With the change, Los Angeles joins a growing list of places that have already replaced Columbus Day — first recognized as a federal holiday in 1937 — with Indigenous Peoples Day, including Alaska, Vermont, Seattle, Albuquerque, San Francisco and Denver. Most recently, the Bangor City Council in Maine voted to rename the holiday, the Bangor Daily News reports

Petition to Label “Antifa” As A Terror Group Gains 300,000 Signatures

Original Article

By Dylan Stableford

new petition calling on the Trump administration to formally recognize the so-called antifa as a “terrorist organization” has generated nearly 300,000 signatures in a week — well beyond the threshold that is supposed to trigger a formal response from the White House. But there’s been no indication under President Trump that it will.

The petition, created by last week in the wake of the violent clashes between white supremacists and antifascists in Charlottesville, Va., argues that the group’s tactics are akin to ISIS:

Terrorism is defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aims”. This definition is the same definition used to declare ISIS and other groups, as terrorist organizations. AntiFa has earned this title due to its violent actions in multiple cities and their influence in the killings of multiple police officers throughout the United States. It is time for the pentagon to be consistent in its actions – and just as they rightfully declared ISIS a terror group, they must declare AntiFa a terror group – on the grounds of principle, integrity, morality, and safety.

At a campaign rally in Phoenix earlier this week, Trump himself referred to the masked antifascist protesters by name.

“You know, they show up in the helmets and the black masks and they’ve got clubs and they’ve got everything,” the president told the crowd. “Antifa!”

Related: Outside Trump’s rally, bikers, antifa, police, protesters and pepper spray

The State Department maintains a list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs)that are designated by the secretary of state. There are currently 61, including ISIS, al-Qaida and Boko Haram.

The petition to add antifa to that list has more than 290,000 signatures — nearly triple the number it needed by Sept. 16 to get “an official response.”

The digital platform, which was created in 2011 under President Barack Obama, drew nearly half a million petitions during his presidency. And the Obama White House answered many of them, including a petition to forgive student loan debt, a call for Obama to pardon Edward Snowden and, most memorably, a plea for the federal government to begin construction on a Death Star, the galactic superweapon featured in the “Star Wars” film franchise.

“The Administration does not support blowing up planets,” Paul Shawcross, a White House science and technology adviser, replied in a statement. “Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”

But the Trump administration has yet to respond to any of the 10 other petitions that have crossed the 100,000 threshold.

petition calling on the Trump administration to immediately release the president’s tax returns, launched on the day of Trump’s inauguration, crossed that mark a day later. It now has more than a million signatures.

Another petition, also launched on Inauguration Day, demands that Trump “divest his financial and business holdings or have them administered by a truly blind trust.” That one has 350,000 signatures. A petition urging the administration to preserve the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities received more than 200,000 signatures.

And one calling on Trump to resign because he is “in violation of the Emoluments Clause” — which some Constitutional lawyers have argued — also breezed past the 100,000-signature mark.

Police use pepper spray to disperse protesters
Police use pepper spray to disperse protesters outside of President Trump’s rally in Phoenix on Tuesday. (Photo: Laura Segall/AFP/Getty Images)
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It’s Going Down, a website that bills itself as “a digital community center from anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements,” called the idea of labeling antifa a terror group “absurd.”

“We see this petition as a part of a political campaign to criminalize dissent,” a spokesperson for the website wrote in an email to Yahoo News. “It is insidious accusation that anti-fascism is ‘terrorism’ given the number of actual murders, mass casualty incidents and violence white supremacists are directly responsible for.”

“To lump ISIS in with anti-fascism in the same sentence as if anti-fascists are not actively fighting ISIS in Syria is an intentional effort to conflate two polar opposite efforts,” the spokesperson added. “Anti-fascists see ISIS and the alt-right as two sides of the same fascism.”

On-Field Prayer Made by Christian Football Coach Ruled Unprotected by the Constitution

Original Article

By Maura Dolan

A Christian football coach suspended for kneeling and praying on the 50-yard line after high school games Wednesday lost a bid to be reinstated and allowed to worship in front of students.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said that Bremerton, Wash., High School football coach Joseph A. Kennedy was serving as a public employee when he prayed in front of students and parents immediately after games, and the school had the right to discipline him.

The Bremerton School District, located in Kitsap County across Puget Sound from Seattle, serves about 5,057 religiously diverse students, the court said.

Kennedy, an assistant football coach there from 2008 to 2015, led students and coaching staff in locker-room prayers before and after most games and also prayed on the 50-yard line after games.

Students eventually joined him in the prayers on the field, and he gave motivational speeches with religious content, the court said.

The school district objected, saying its employees could not publicly endorse a religion, and Kennedy asked for a religious exemption under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The school said he could pray on the 50-yard line after students and parents had left. Kennedy did this for a while, but eventually renewed his postgame practice of praying before people left.

Kennedy’s religious activities gained media attention, and a Satanist group said it too wanted to pray on the football field.

The district eventually suspended Kennedy with pay and did not rehire him when his contract expired.

Kennedy charged in his lawsuit that the school violated his 1st Amendment rights.

Disagreeing, the 9th Circuit panel said the fact that Kennedy insisted on praying in front of students and parents showed his speech was directed at least in part to others, not solely to God.

“When Kennedy kneeled and prayed on the fifty-yard line immediately after games while in view of students and parents, he spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen, and his speech therefore was constitutionally unprotected,” wrote the 9th Circuit, upholding a decision by a district court judge.

29 States Banned Individual State Laws About Seeds

Original Article

By Kristina Johnson

This story was originally published by Food and Environment Reporting Network.

With little notice, more than two dozen state legislatures have passed “seed-preemption laws” designed to block counties and cities from adopting their own rules on the use of seeds, including bans on GMOs. Opponents say that there’s nothing more fundamental than a seed, and that now, in many parts of the country, decisions about what can be grown have been taken out of local control and put solely in the hands of the state.

“This bill should be viewed for what it is — a gag order on public debate,” says Kristina Hubbard, director of advocacy and communications at the Organic Seed Alliance, a national advocacy group, and a resident of Montana, which along with Texas passed a seed-preemption bill this year. “This thinly disguised attack on local democracy can be easily traced to out-of-state, corporate interests that want to quash local autonomy.”

Seed-preemption laws are part of a spate of legislative initiatives by industrial agriculture, including ag-gag laws passed in several states that legally prohibit outsiders from photographing farms, and “right-to-farm” laws that make it easier to snuff out complaints about animal welfare. The seed laws, critics say, are a related thrust meant to protect the interests of agro-chemical companies.

Nearly every seed-preemption law in the country borrows language from a 2013 model bill drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The council is “a pay-to-play operation where corporations buy a seat and a vote on ‘task forces’ to advance their legislative wish lists,” essentially “voting as equals” with state legislators on bills, according to The Center for Media and Democracy. ALEC’s corporate members include the Koch brothers as well as some of the largest seed-chemical companies — Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont — which want to make sure GMO bans, like those enacted in Jackson County, Oregon, and Boulder County, Colorado, don’t become a trend.

Seed-preemption laws have been adopted in 29 states, including Oregon — one of the world’s top five seed-producing regions — California, Iowa, and Colorado. In Oregon, the bill was greenlighted in 2014 after Monsanto and Syngenta spent nearly $500,000 fighting a GMO ban in Jackson County. Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences, and Syngenta also spent more than $6.9 million opposing anti-GMO rules in three Hawaiian counties, and thousands more in campaign donations. (These companies are also involved in mergers that, if approved, would create three seed-agrochemical giants.)

Montana and Texas were the latest states to join the seed-preemption club. Farming is the largest industry in Montana, and Texas is the third-largest agricultural state in terms of production, behind California and Iowa.

Language in the Texas version of the bill preempts not only local laws that affect seeds but also local laws that deal with “cultivating plants grown from seed.” In theory, that could extend to almost anything: what kinds of manure or fertilizer can be used, or whether a county can limit irrigation during a drought, says Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. Along with other activists, her organization was able to force an amendment to the Texas bill guaranteeing the right to impose local water restrictions. Still, the law’s wording remains uncomfortably open to interpretation, she says.

In both Montana and Texas, the laws passed with support from the state chapter of the Farm Bureau Federation — the nation’s largest farm-lobbying group — and other major ag groups, including the Montana Stockgrowers Association and the Texas Seed Trade Alliance. In Texas, DuPont and Dow Chemical also joined the fight, publicly registering their support for the bill.

Echoing President Trump’s anti-regulatory rhetoric, preemption proponents argue that, fundamentally, seed-preemption laws are about cutting the red tape from around farmers’ throats. Supporters also contend that counties and cities don’t have the expertise or the resources to make sound scientific decisions about the safety or quality of seeds.

“We don’t believe the locals have the science that the state of Texas has,” said Jim Reaves, legislative director of the Texas Farm Bureau. “So we think it’s better held in the state’s hands. It will basically tell cities that if you have a problem with a certain seed, the state can ban it, but you can’t.”

Other preemption proponents claim that local seed rules would simply get too complicated, forcing growers to navigate conflicting laws in different counties. “Many of us farm fields in more than one county,” said Don Steinbeisser Jr., a Sidney, Montana, farmer who testified in support of his state’s bill at a legislative hearing this spring. “Having different rules in each county would make management a nightmare and add costs to the crops that we simply do not need and cannot afford.”

But critics of preemption laws, including farmers (organic and conventional) and some independent seed companies, are afraid of losing their legislative rights. They claim something far more serious than a single farmer’s crop is at stake.

“There is no looming threat that warrants forfeiting the independence of local agricultural communities in the form of sweeping language that eliminates all local authority governing one of our most valuable national resources,” says Hubbard of the Organic Seed Alliance.

Organic farmers can lose their crop if it becomes contaminated with genetically modified material. Even conventional farmers who rely on exports to Asia, where GMOs are banned by some countries, face risks from contamination. There are currently no plans to push for a GMO ban anywhere in Texas or Montana, and neither state requires companies to disclose the use of GMOs. (In Montana, at least, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, added an amendment to the preemption bill when he signed it, preserving the right of local governments to require that farmers notify their neighbors if they’re planting GMO seeds.) Yet critics of the preemption laws fear that they tie the hands of local governments, which will make it harder for communities to respond to problems in the future.

Still, the fight isn’t just about GMOs, says Judith McGeary, noting that seeds coated with neonicotinoids — a class of pesticides linked to colony collapse disorder in bees — are also at issue. Under the Texas bill, a local government can’t ban neonic seeds in order to protect pollinator insects, and in the current political climate, it’s hard to imagine that such a ban would happen on the state level.

“We have an extremely large state with an incredible diversity of agricultural practices and ecological conditions, and you’ve now hobbled any ability to address a problem that’s found in one local area,” says McGeary. “Until it’s a big enough issue for a state of 23 million to pay attention to through the state legislature, nothing is going to happen,” she says.