In the wake of a series of public hearings, open comment periods, rallies for and against GMOs on Boulder County Open Space, attendees in today’s final decision announcement sat still and silent for once as all three Boulder County Commissioners gave approval for planting genetically-engineered corn and sugar beet seeds on public lands.
The commissioners, admitting to fatigue and extensive research on this issue, appeared battle-worn with a hint of surrender. "I haven't slept well in a while," says Ben Pearlman, in his opening comments. He worried over the repercussions of any decision regarding the Cropland Agricultural Policy on farmers and residents in the community.
I and my coworkers listened in to the discussion. Here's the CliffsNotes version of why the commissioners think GMOs belong in our backyards.
Commissioner #1: In favor of coexistence
Will Toor, in his 38-minute explanation around what he dubs "complicated details to figure out" reminds us that, as mayor more than 10 years ago, he suggested a ban on GMOs in the city of Boulder, but the issue of GMOs on county land was not yet on the radar. Now, convinced the issue is not black and white, Toor acknowledges that farming is a tough business.
Toor also acknowledges that the natural foods industry has a strong interest in this policy, but he rejects the argument that a county-wide ban on GMOs would be beneficial "to build the Boulder brand" as Steve Demos articulates in my previous blog. The move to support the interest of the industry, Toor explains, rather than the interest of the people is a mentality he disagrees with on the whole. I do wonder whose interest is really at stake, if chemical agriculture and the biotech industries are welcome in our public lands soil.
Toor referenced several high-profile thought leaders and scientists on both sides of the GMO debate, but concluded that all "scientific bodies weighing in on the issue have found no real food safety risk. The purported GMO risks are not high compared to any other type of breeding." Would anyone like to take on this argument? It begs a rebuttal.
He did, however, recognize that consumer choice is important. "Safe or unsafe, consumers have the right to choose, and I support GE labeling in the next County Federal Legislative Agenda," he said. Here is where Toor and I agree, and so would Geri Prado of Just Label It. May we begin campaigning for county-wide labeling now?
On the risk of cross-contamination, and the concern that organic farms would lose their organic certification, Toor said he visited the National Organic Program’s website and reminded the attendees that the NOP only bans intentional use of GMOs, so his recommendation is to allow planting of GE crops, but to be careful. By "careful," Toor names the good farming practice of routine crop rotation to avoid resistant weeds and pests. But will county officials hold GE farms to the same buffer zone requirements that the NOP requires of organic farms? What role will the county play in protecting organic farmers, if any?
Commissioner #2: In favor of coexistence
In an equally lengthy explanation of her support for coexistence, Cindy Dimenico promised listeners they have "looked at everything we can think of" but had to focus on the big picture. Dimenico was raised in Eastern Boulder County and shared her experiences growing up on a family farm. She also acknowledged the tough business of farming. But even with all the support for local food and even if they want to grow alternative crops, she said "farmers must grow crops that keep them in business."
This statement points to a much larger issue of farm policy on a national level. Many farmers are indeed forced to grow commodity crops to stay afloat; a direct result of current outdated farm policy.
Commissioner #3: In favor of coexistence
Ben Pearlman got straight to the point. He agreed with all previously stated points from his co-commissioners. "My hope is that when the dust settles, we can move forward."
My hope is that he did not intend to apply such a grossly appropriate metaphor.