Debate over GMO ban in Boulder County, Colo., continues | TheFencePost.com

Debate over GMO ban in Boulder County, Colo., continues

To educate county residents about GMO crops a showing of the documentary “Food Evolution” was held on Oct. 24 at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder, Colo., followed by a three-person panel.

The debate around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has continued in Boulder County, Colorado, since the Board of County Commissioners voted to phase out and eventually ban GMO crops on county land.

With a phase-out plan in place, by 2021 there won't be any GMO crops on county land.

But farmers in the county aren't ready to give up on GMOs yet.

To educate county residents about GMO crops a showing of the documentary "Food Evolution" was held on Oct. 24 at the Dairy Arts Center in Boulder, Colo., followed by a three-person panel.

The documentary explained how science has been pushed aside in the debate regarding GMO crops and replaced with emotional and myth-based logic. The documentary traced the journey in Hawaii when the Hawaii Island County Council voted to ban GMO crops, with the exception of the rainbow papaya, a major crop in the region, which the documentary claimed would die out without genetic engineering (GE).

There are no exceptions for farmers in Boulder County, but advocates for both sides of the issue want to keep the conversation going.

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Unfortunately none of the commissioners were present at the showing or during the panel discussion.

Among those in attendance were Rich Koopman, a retired planning manager for Boulder County Parks and Open Space and the executive director for the Farmers Alliance for Integrated Resources, or FAIR — a group supporting the farmers against the GMO ban. Koopman said it was important to have the documentary and discussion in Boulder County considering the debate around GMOs.

FAIR co-sponsored the event, along with Masters of the Environment, CU Boulder, Boulder Brands, Colorado Corn, CU's Secular Students & Skeptics Society, Colorado Farm Bureau and Western Sugar Cooperative.

PANEL DISCUSSION

The hour-long panel discussion that followed the documentary viewing included Sondra Pierce, an organic farmer in Boulder County, Rebecca Larson, a representative from Western Sugar, and Sharon Collinge, an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado.

Growers for Western Sugar produce GE sugar beets in the county.

The documentary said that those against GMOs either don't listen to science or they cling to faulty or disregarded studies.

Larson said the GE crops help protect the environment by using "less water."

Some farmers and researchers believe the ban will lead to more pesticides, more water used and more carbon released from the soil.

Pesticides and herbicides were a focus for part of the discussion because of misconceptions around whether or not they're used in organic farming.

They are. But that doesn't mean that organic farmers will use more because the pesticides are weaker. "I wish that people would ask a farmer rather than assume," Pierce said.

That point was one all three panelists agreed on.

Cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias are both areas the panelists said are a large problem when it comes to myths and facts in the GMO debate.

Pierce said she just wants people to approach the discussion with an open mind, and Collinge took that a step further.

She said being cautious also is important when it comes to the source of the information. She advocated for peer-reviewed studies since the process for published articles is so rigorous.

For Larson, she said those doing the research should become louder advocates for their studies.

"I think there is a great need for scientists to be better communicators," she said. ❖

— Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached for questions, comments and ideas at sfox@thefencepost.com or at (970) 392-4410. Connect with her on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.

Boulder County update

At the Boulder County Commission meeting on Oct. 24, the commissioners took a recommendation to toss out the proposed bids for a research center which was supposed to help farmers transition away from using GMO crops in Boulder County, Colorado.

Eric Lane, director of Boulder County Parks and Open Space, said there doesn’t seem to be a collaborative relationship with the farmers and there was an “implicit threat” through the Farmers Alliance for Integrated Resources tha if Western Sugar wasn’t picked to run the facility over Colorado State University there would be a lawsuit.

The problem stemmed from a perceived and possible conflict of interest if CSU was chosen.

According to Rich Koopman, executive director of the Farmers Alliance for Integrated Resources, the idea that FAIR or its farmers threatened to sue was simply not true.

According to the text of Lane’s statement at the Oct. 24 meeting sent in an email, the statement said a letter sent from FAIR’s attorney, implied the threat.

The letter, dated Sept. 7, urged that Boulder County not award the bid to “CSU as that would be grounds for a valid protest/appeal of the County’s process from another party.”

The commissioners unanimously voted to toss out the applicants. Commissioners Elise Jones and Deb Gardner placed the blame on the farmers, as did Lane.

Commissioner Cindy Domenico, however, said it falls on the county staff, too. Domenico was the only commissioner to vote against the GMO ban last year.

In an email to The Fence Post prior to the meeting, Lane said there has not been any discussion he’s “aware of” when it comes to the timeline farmers face to phase out their GMO crops, even with the problems that arose from picking an entity to run a research center.

“Any decision about altering the timeline the board adopted as policy last year will be up to the board to discuss and decide, but it has not been the subject of any conversation that I’m aware of,” he wrote in the email.