Boulder Citizens Say No to GMOs, Will the Commissioners Listen?

In Boulder, CO, the fight to keep GMOs off county lands is entering the final rounds. After months of deliberation, an agricultural policy group has recommended that GMOs be allowed on open space land and the people of Boulder county are making sure their leaders know they do not approve. Their message is being heard and the collective thorn is growing in Monsanto’s side. Will the county commissioners side with the corporations or the people?

The joint session of the Food and Agriculture Policy Council (FAPC) and the Parks and Open Space Advisory Commission (POSAC) saw a huge turnout Tuesday night at the Longmont Convention Center. The purpose of this meeting was to publicly present and receive comments on the current agricultural policy recommendations set forth by the members of the Cropland Policy Advisory Group (CPAG). The Boulder Cropland Policy encompasses many aspects of agriculture, but the main issue is whether to let farmers grow GMO crops on public open space land. While this group could not come to a consensus on the GMO issue, the majority of the members recommended that GMOs be allowed on open space land.

Boulder, known for its progressive stance on sustainability and the environment, naturally attracts more health-oriented people than the national average. Local surveys have shown that 71% of the people do not approve of GMOs being grown on county land. Proponents for both sides of the issue were in attendance, but the crowd’s reaction to the meeting’s proceedings made it overwhelmingly clear who was the majority. Concerned citizens arrived carrying posters and the applauses for non-GMO statements were so long and numerous, the facilitator requested they be withheld.

Each citizen was given three minutes to speak. The vast majority expressed their concerns about the safety of GMO crops, their associated chemical application, and possible contamination issues. They spoke out against the conflict of interest, political influence and corporate greed that has affected national GMO public policy.

Members of the Boulder GMKnow Group, a local non-GMO awareness group organized by Scott and Mary Smith, were not satisfied with the recommended agricultural policy and wrote their own. This new policy, called the Citizens Cropland Policy was read by 25 members in 3-minute intervals and is available for viewing and endorsement on their website.

The opposite camp showed up as well. Standing out like sore thumbs, the large men, wearing blazers and cowboy hats, stood mostly in the back of the room. Their arguments were that GMOs made it easier for them to make more money.

During the public comments, an unidentified man in red shirt, who expounded on the benefits of GMOs to the panel, was later questioned as to his affiliations by an elderly man in the crowd. The red-shirted man pushed the elderly man and told him to “sit down”. It was later revealed to the panel that the red-shirted man is a Monsanto employee.

“It was a perfect ending to a glorious demonstration of citizens in action,” Smith said.

Prior to the altercation, representatives from the Colorado Farm Bureau spoke up in defense the GMO technology, stating that the existing science speaks for itself.

Good science does speak for itself, but has the GMO science been “good science”? Many, including the scientists doing the research, believe that not to be the case.

The safety of GMO crops depends on who you talk to. All studies conducted on the safety of GMOs have been conducted and/or funded by the very companies selling them. Since GMO crops were planted 15 years ago, companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont have made it impossible for studies to be conducted without their authorization because of a “Technology/Stewardship” agreement that prohibits using their product for research. These policies came under scrutiny when 24 scientists anonymously contacted the EPA in February 2009 regarding unethical controls on scientific research. Elson Shields of Cornell University’s Department of Entomology, one of the formerly anonymous twenty-four, worked around the companies’ restrictions for 10 years but felt that too many issues were going unanswered. The scientists could not be assured that multi-year studies would be renewed or that the companies would give approval to follow up on unexpected findings. The companies have since implemented Academic Research Licenses (ARLs) to improve the issue, but these licenses are still restrictive in approved areas of study and require negotiation with the companies.

Still, these roadblocks have not stopped some international scientists from inquiring deeper into the issue. Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov of Surov’s Institute of Ecology found that hamsters fed a diet of GM soy developed infertility, slower growth, higher mortality rate and hair growing within the mouth. Another study by Gilles-Eric Séralini, published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences, found that Monsanto’s GMO corn was linked to organ failure in rats.

Perhaps the biggest concern citizens should ponder is not the effects of ingesting the genetically altered food, but the effect on the human and environmental health of the community. Earth Open Source published a report in June 2011 showing that Roundup, Monsanto’s trade name for glyphosate, causes birth defects. All available varieties of GMO seeds require the application of this chemical. It’s widespread application in association with GMO crops has also been linked to the dramatic rise of “superweeds” which do not respond to herbicide application.

The European Union, as well as most of the planet, continues to ban GMO crops. One has to wonder why, in the face of so many questions, our own government is trying to push them down our throats?

The FAPC and the POSAC will meet November 16th and 17th to decide on approving the policy recommended by CPAG. The policies will then be presented in public hearing to the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners on December 8th at 6pm at the Longmont Convention Center.

The citizens of Boulder county have made it loud and clear how they feel on the GMO issue. But ultimately, the final decision on which policy to accept lies in the hands of the three county commissioners. Political influence has been traditionally stacked in favor of the biotechnology corporations due to multimillion dollar lobbying budgets and insider connections. Many other local governments are looking to Boulder to set the precedent on this and you can be sure Monsanto has assigned some lobbyists to this case. Two of the three commissioners are up for re-election in 2012. There are a lot of forces at play here, and given the huge local response to this issue, this could go either way.

Correction: “Two commissioners are not up for re-election; Will Toor and Ben Pearlman are term-limited at the end of 2012.” – Garry Sanfacon (see comments)

About Matt Spaeth

Comments

  1. Matt,
    I want to correct a statement at the end. In fact, two commissioners are not up for re-election; Will Toor and Ben Pearlman are term-limited at the end of 2012.

    Below is my statement public position against GMOs. At this time, I am the only candidate that has taken a public stand.

    Thanks,
    Garry Sanfacon
    Candidate for Boulder County Commissioner
    http://www.garrysanfacon.org
    303-803-7773
    garryforbouldercounty@gmail.com

    Garry Sanfaçon, candidate for County Commissioner (District 1), releases statement taking a stand against GMOs on County open space

    Boulder County. CO, November 16, 2011 – Boulder County began the process of developing its Cropland Policy for agriculture on county open space18-months ago. Whether or not to continue to allow genetically modified crops (GMOs) to be grown on open space has become a contentious issue. Staff will present their final recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners in a public hearing on December 8, 2012, and it is anticipated they will recommend the County continue to support GMOs on County open space. The December 8 meeting will be the last chance for Boulder County citizens to voice their disapproval of GMOs on County open space. The Commissioners will make a decision the following week.

    Garry Sanfaçon, candidate for County Commissioner (District 1), has taken a stand against GMOs on County open space. His statement follows:

    After participating in the County’s 18-month Cropland Policy process, I am impressed and excited by the large number of community members actively engaged in discussing the future of our food and agriculture system. I believe we are at a similar decision point as we were in the 1970’s when our community was debating how to address growth management. The residents and leaders of Boulder County didn’t settle for business as usual then and we shouldn’t today. We should take this opportunity to transform our local food and agriculture system.

    Clearly, the main sticking point in this discussion is whether GMOs should be allowed on County open space. When I ran for County Commissioner in 2004, I recommended banning GMOs on public and private lands in Boulder County because there was a lack of understanding of the short-term and long-term impacts to the natural environment and human health. Seven years later the safety concerns about genetically engineered crops persist. Therefore, I believe we should err on the side of caution and ban GMOs on County open space.

    With this decision we must not walk away thinking our work is done and organic farming will automatically flourish. On the contrary, the work is just beginning. The good news is that there is a great deal of common ground. Here’s what I’m hearing people want for our food and agriculture system: ensuring healthy soil, air and water; minimizing the use of pesticides; enhancing food security; increasing local food production; creating jobs; improving the health of all residents; supporting farmers now and in the future; preserving our rural character; building economic viability; and ensuring all income levels have access to local food.

    Let’s focus our energy on finding ways to start the transition to implement this desirable future. To start, I recommend bringing all stakeholders – especially farmers – together to get their ideas about the steps we should take to achieve a healthy, equitable and profitable food and agriculture system.

    ###

    • Thank you for your correction Gary. We applaud your courage to take a stand on this controversial issue.

      • I say “NO GMO’s in Colorado”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Thank you, Garry Sanfaçon, for standing up! Boulder County has always taken the lead regarding health, sustainability, environmentcal concerns, etc., etc., etc. Please do not sell out now!

        We do not need to sell out to Monsanto or any other corporation.

  2. I’ve seen this thing in the news time and again, and I have to say, Boulder, I really don’t get it.

    You talk about the corporations and the people, corporations and the people, but what about the ones this really affects: the farmers. Do you think farmers LIKE paying for the cost of GE seed? You think they enjoy an additional cost that takes money right out of THEIR bottom line. No, that’s ridiculous. Why would they do it? Perhaps they find some benefit? Perhaps they, unlike many others, know what the alternative to GE crops is. Here’s a radical idea: let them choose. If they don’t want GE crops, fine, everybody’s happy. If the farmers do choose to spend that extra money, maybe you should accept that they know what they’re doing and not take away their rights to run their farms as they see fit.

    Anyway, I find you made some errors in your piece here. First, it is absolutely false that there has never been any independent study on GE crops (you can find a list of about 100 such studies here: http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/independent-funding/). Beyond that, I have yet to speak to any scientist who questions the safety of genetically engineered crops, and I’ve spoken to quite a number in my university’s biology, horticulture, genetics, and biochemistry departments. Sorry to be so blunt here, but the only ones who still think there is any legitimate debate about the safety of GE crops have clearly not gone through the literature on the subject. This is just like all those other so-called controversies (you know the ones I’m talking about). Heck, no one can find a single confirmed example of a single person having ever been harmed in any way from a GE crop, nor has anyone even put forward a plausible biochemical mechanism for how that could even happen.

    You point out the claims of Surov and Séralini. As far as I know, Surov has yet to release his data. At first I thought your link was to his data, but when I clicked on it it, lo and behold, an article explaining that the data will be released in July…..2010. Now that’s open science right there! As for Séralini, the shoddy statistics used in his meta-study were widely discredited by pretty much everyone who gave it the time of day, including FSANZ, EFSA and France’s HBC (Haut Conseil des biotechnologies). As for the Round-Up toxicity claims, I notice a distinct lack of widespread birth defects among the millions of farming families who use Round-Up. If it really did cause birth defects, you would expect farmers to be the first to feel it. That has not happened. That observation aside, that study was pretty much cherry picking and is worth very little. Notice how these reports don’t exactly send shock waves throughout the scientific community. Ask yourself, why is that? Either the vast majority of biologists, zoologists, botanists, geneticists, microbiologists, toxicologists, biochemists, agronomists, and horticulturists (and naturally I’m one of them too) are in league with Monsanto for some nefarious purposes (although for some strange reason still eat the same GE food everyone else does), of the anti-GE position holds no water. When I hear hooves, I think horses, not zebras. So, uh, what was that about good science again? Shoddy statistics, cherry picking, and not even publishing your data are good science, but accepting scientific consensus isn’t?

    Lets see here, what else….All GE crops require this herbicide? Wrong. Only the Round-Up Ready ones can tolerate it. Note that they don’t REQUIRE it any more than any other crop. The insect resistant Bt crops don’t require it, and the Liberty Link crops are resistant to another herbicide, glufosinate. Or course, there is also virus resistant GE crops, but there’s only two of them on the market right now, papaya and summer squash (obviously only one of which really matters for most growers).

    Super weeds? A misleading misnomer. The correct term is glyphosate resistant weed. These weeds are resistant to glyphosate, not anything else. If you’re against using glyphosate, it doesn’t really matter anyway. The danger here is threatening to take away the advantages GE crops have already provided, not to be ‘super’ or whatever is meant to be implied with that term. Anyone who knows anything about population genetics.will tell you that when you apply strong selection pressure to a fast reproducing population you will produce a genetic shift. This has absolutely nothing to do with genetic engineering itself, indeed, this is hardly the first time a weed has become resistant to a widely used herbicide. It opens up the discussion of better weed management but that’s a different (and rather complex) subject. That EU countries, and many other countries, ban GE crops shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who understands global agriculture. Ask yourself a question: how do you continue to prop up protectionist policies for your own agriculture in the face of the comparative advantage of countries such as the US and Canada after you’ve joined the WTO which clearly prohibits such policies? Simple, blame GMOs. It’s actually kind of clever. A number of other countries, particularly in Africa, not wanting to lose export markets to Europe, follow them and also ban the cultivation of GE crops. Is anyone really surprised by this?

    Ok, so a bunch of people are against GE crops. I would strongly question the level of knowledge those people have regarding this subject. And I would also like to live were policy decisions are made by people who have strong understanding of the subject. Should we take a public vote on which surgical techniques are used in operating rooms, or should we let that decision up to, I don’t know, surgeons? What if these people were saying that farmers HAD to grow GE crops? How would that be any different? I confess, I don’t live there, I’m just someone who has been seeing this story pop up in GoogleNews time and again but really, why aren’t the farmers factoring into this? If they don’t want it, there’s no need for a ban, if they do, whose side are you really on?

  3. 1. You want to talk about farmers? How about the farmers in the midwest and the southeast who are walking off their fields because they are plagued with glyphosate-resistant pigweed? Where has the seed companies left them? They were allured with promises of an easy system of which the rewards were short-lived.

    The debate here is over GMOs on public lands. Private farmers can still buy whatever seed they want. The citizens of Boulder do not want their lands to turn into the infertile, chemically-laden, weed patches that cover the cotton belt and the Midwest.

    2. None of the independent studies in that list on safety were conducted for more than 90 days. It is preposterous to claim a biological alteration as being safe after studying it for such an absurdly short period of time.

    Perhaps you should get out and consult some scientists who do not co-exist in your academic bubble. Talk to Dr. Michael McNeill, an agricultural consultant who manages 165,000 non-GMO and GMO acres. Ask him why his long-time GMO customers are making more money by going non-GMO. Talk to Don Huber about the new pathogen he has found in the soil of GMO crops. Talk to the The American Academy of Environmental Medicine. http://www.aaemonline.org/gmopost.html

    3. You want to read Surov’s study? Here you go, it’s in Russian, use Google Translate, have fun. http://map.biorf.ru/pages.php?id=RAS_problemSever

    Also, here is an Argentinian study linking Roundup to birth defects:
    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/tx1001749

    Add these to your reading list too:
    http://www.somloquesembrem.org/img_editor/file/Vecchioetal2004.pdf
    http://www.biosicherheit.de/pdf/aktuell/zentek_studie_2008.pdf
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240732/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1314908/

    4. Glyphosate-tolerant crops currently hold the vast market share, so that is what we are talking about here. Glyphosate is technically not required, but to not use it would completely negate the reason for buying the GM seed. No one buying this seed is doing so without the intent of using glyphosate.

    5. Superweeds – Yes I know they are actually called “glyphosate-resistant weeds”, this a blog, it’s a term, get off your high horse. The rise of glyphosate-resistant weeds are due to the blanket application of glyphosate farmers are able to apply because their crops can withstand it. And yes, they are super, because the selection pressure the widespread application of glyphosate has provided has resulted in some strains of weed that even damage farm machinery. Look at where the majority of the money is the industry and you see that genetic engineering and herbicide use go hand in hand.

    6. I am going to counter your point and say that we should strongly question the amount of money people promoting a technology receive (directly or indirectly) from the people selling that technology.

    Funny that you brought up Bayer’s Liberty Link crops, they give millions to your school…

  4. 1. Ok, so now we agree that there were rewards, that’s good. No one is saying that it isn’t bad, however, it is those benefits that are threatened. Anyone is free to switch to something else. And don’t tell me they can’t, heck, watch anything on RFDTV and it won’t be long before you see a Liberty Link soybean commercial encouraging just that (that of course is not the only option). And of course it should be stated again that this has more to do with the cultivation than the technology. Believe it or not, weeds have been found that have developed seeds that have cycles of dormancy such that they can better weather crop rotation. Doesn’t mean that anyone should stop using crop rotation.

    What alternatives would they prefer? Tillage, which degrades and erodes the soil and promotes fertilizer runoff? Perhaps older herbicides that were used before the adoption of GE crops, herbicides that are quite a bit nastier and have higher impacts on the environment? Do they understand this? It isn’t a question of what causes no harm, but what causes the least harm. I know which one I’d rather live next to. And I fail to see how the midwest where they grow many of these crops is an infertile weed patch.

    2. Look at studies number 6, 32, 35, 38, and 56. You say that it is ‘preposterous to claim a biological alteration as being safe after studying it for such an absurdly short period of time.’ Let me ask, do you apply the same logic to all biological alterations? What about conventional breeding techniques? That changes the genes, and furthermore, it does so in unknown ways. Remember the Lenape potato…even breeding is not without risk. What about hybridization, somaclonal variation, chemical/radiation induced mutagenesis, induced polyploidy? What if marker assisted selection, wide crosses, or embryo rescue is involved? Do you apply the same logic to these? It’s genetic change, right. What if you can’t find anything different in the proteome between the GE plant and its non-GE isogenic counterpart? What if not a single person out there can describe in detail a single protein or metabolite out of place in a GE crop? Something cannot be dangerous if there is nothing dangerous present. And at what point do you consider something safe? You have to have a set criteria for declaring that something is safe, otherwise, you’re taking a position that cannot be disproven. You can take these as rhetorical questions if you want, my point is that there is a lot more nuance than you seem to indicate.

    I don’t recall ever hearing much about any Dr. McNeill. A quick google search and I finds some things he’s said, some true, some not so much, and some kinda weird (spraying glyphosate is like giving a plant AIDS? Huh? How is Immunodeficiency anything like halting amino acid synthesis?) I’d have to know the exact situation any one person was in if they’re making money with non-GMO food. It does make me thing of this study (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6001/222.abstract) which claims that those who do not grow GE crops surprisingly get more benefit out of GE crops than the people actually growing them! Huber is another one who hasn’t published his data. He makes some really, really extraordinary claims, but nothing to back them up. Not much else to say about that. There’s that ‘open science’ again. Kind of a double standard that you’ll take Huber at his word but if he reached the opposite conclusion I doubt anyone would.

    As for the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, who are they? Just another non-recognized pseudoprofessional organization, like so many others. Check out what sciencebasedmedicine.org, a site that doesn’t even deal in issues of genetic engineering, has to say about them. They’ve even got themselves a spot on Quackwatch. Anyway, I can list more than a few more reputable organizations, among them the World Health Organization, who have much different statements.

    3. I did have some fun with that. The site you linked to here is just a directory. It does not list his data, although it does have his email. What I found funny was that Google decided to translate Суров Алексей Васильевич as Severe Shubnikov. I get how they can translate ‘суров’ to ‘severe’ from but how do the get Shubnikov out of Алексей Васильевич (Alexei Vasilevich)? Sure my Russian is pretty poor but I don’t get that. But I digress….

    As for the meat & potatoes here, first, the Argentinian study. I remember that one from a while back. From what I can tell about the only conclusion you can draw from that is don’t inject Round-Up into embryos, which sounded like a good idea before the study. Considering how much Round-Up is applied, then how much degrades, then how much is lost in processing, then how much is actually absorbed into the body, that study doesn’t exceptionally scare me. I’ve seen similar studies about pure caffeine. Doesn’t bother me.

    The Zentek study, I hope you know, was withdrawn. Read about it (with links to the European Commission summery) here: http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/499.docu.html and here: http://www.gmo-safety.eu/news/599.does-maize-cause-impotence-efsa-experts-voice-doubts.html and here: http://www.biofortified.org/2010/04/update-on-austrian-feeding-study/ Not a good idea to cite withdrawn papers, though I must chuckle a little when I notice that anti-GE sites like Greenpeace’s and Jeffery Smith’s have no problem bringing up that study but curiously neglect to mention this. Almost as if they’re putting an agenda above facts, no?

    As for the Vecchio study, I can’t actually read beyond the abstract from where I am now (there’s a paywall) so can’t comment on it. The two listed in the NIH don’t even mention GE. You going to bring up Pusztai next ;)

    4. If that is what you mean you should specify it, otherwise it gives the false impression that all GE crops require a specific herbicide. You certainty wouldn’t consider Bt crops the same as Ht ones, would you? And market share or not, there’s always the option of buying LL over RR.

    5. It does matter. I’m not trying to be high horse at all, but it is a weasel word. It gives a false impression. They’re not super, no more so than the GE crops themselves are ‘super’ for being able to do the same thing. I’ve never heard of them being able to damage farm equipment as a result of glyphosate resistance. IIRC the resistance typically comes from a mutation that either changes how glyphosate is transported in the plant, alters the shape of the EPSPS protein so that glyphosate no longer affects it, or produces so much EPSPS that it survives the glyphosate through brute force. I can’t figure out how any of those would make the weeds any more likely to damage farm equipment, but if you could post a link I’d find that interesting.

    6. Do you apply the same logic to the other side? I notice you link to Jeffery Smith. By your logic, you should disregard everything he says because he makes a living off anti-GE professional activism. Séralini was funded by Greenpeace, another case where the professional activism issue arises. I’m certainty not saying you shouldn’t be skeptical of people selling you something. Of course you should, you’d have to be pretty credulous not to. But the vast majority of professionals in relevant fields support these crops. If you look abroad, you see much the same, be it research in China, Bt rice in Iran, emerging biotech abilities in the EUA and Malaysia, virus resistant bananas in Ughanda, low GI wheat in Australia, virus resistant grape rootstocks in France, fungus resistant potatoes in the Netherlands, the beans that ANBIO just approved in Brazil. Granted, I’m talking about the technology as a whole there, but you should realize that this is more than a few companies, and if you’re drawing all that back to just them, then quite frankly you’ve firmly entered tinfoil land. Which is to say, lets get the notion that the process is the issue here out of the way and talk honestly about the traits. This however does not site well with a clearly defined black and white pro-GMO vs anti-GMO worldview.

    Dang, I guess I did kinda sound like I was cheering on the Liberty Link ones there didn’t I? Well, getting called a Bayer shill instead of a Monsanto shill would be a nice change of pace. However, I can tell you I for one haven’t heard them mentioned much by anyone here. Come to think of it, in the biotech class I took I don’t even remember discussing the bar gene and glufosinate (if we did and I just don’t remember, it wasn’t in great detail). I bring them up because the best way to prevent weed resistance is to use multiple different herbicides with differing modes of action. If there’s a 1/X chance of a resistance to one type of herbicide emerging, and a 1/Y chance of resistance to another emerging, the odds of both emerging is 1/(XY), which any way you cut it is going to be a lot smaller. Mathematically speaking, the best approach is a good rotation and multiple varieties of weed control.

    • If the result of the ‘reward’ is a field of weeds that is dead from a microbiological standpoint, that is not a reward. The real rewards come from farming methods that increase soil fertility like organic farming and permaculture.

      Go call up some farmers in the Midwest. Many are buying back their tillers to till under the weeds the glyphosate won’t kill. Call it a result of glyphosate over-application, but even if that may be, those farmers are merely showing others what they will be facing 5 years down the line.

      Nature is in a constant state of evolution. Chemical agriculture is accelerating the evolution of weeds. It is unsustainable. The only thing the future promises for chemical agriculture is successive new generations of stronger and more toxic herbicides.

      Before Dr. McNeill got into agriculture, he worked for the Department of Defense creating biological weapons. I would say he knows a thing or too about biology, genetics and disease. You want to know more? Watch him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVyRQXlQipU

      To say that “the vast majority of professionals in relevant fields support these crops,” is just plain irrelevant. Why? Because the people you reference in “relevant fields” are the ones whose livelihoods are based on this work. That’s like saying “the vast majority of oil engineers support oil production.”

      Most of the world has not adopted GE crops. In fact, the EU still bans them. The US is the greatest grower and pusher of them on the rest of the world. The fact that the US is using diplomatic power and taxpayer money to push a privatized technology on the rest of the world is a perfect example of the why the revolving door between government and industry is dangerous. The only way GE crops have gotten to where they are today is not because of market forces, but because of corporate lobbying and backroom deals.

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