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|August 20- 26, 2009
• See Letters page
• Jim Hightower
• See Perspectives story 1
• See Perspectives story 2
Blinding hysterics over beets
by Troy Bredenkamp
I think we can all agree that Boulder is a very unique place known for a lot of things: CU, the excellent education it provides, and the amount of research dollars it attracts; its innovation and technological advancements that have contributed to the success of its biotech industry; its pride and leadership in organic farming; and even its free-spirited and lackadaisical attitude toward pot smoking.
For all that Boulder is known for, it’s shocking to see how emotion, hysterics and a dramatic disregard for science has led to such outrage against a petition submitted by six local family farmers to grow Roundup Ready sugar beets on Boulder County open space.
As Pamela White points out in her August 6-12 article, “Planting a Seed,” the Colorado Farm Bureau is an advocacy organization representing family farmers and ranchers across the state including farmers in Boulder County. We support all types of agriculture including Boulder’s proud organic “brand.” Ms. White also points out that Mary Lee Chin, a registered dietician with a master’s degree in clinical nutrition, testified before the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee on behalf of Colorado Farm Bureau. We felt it was important that her perspective be shared with the Committee.
The notion that the planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets on Boulder County open space will somehow destroy Boulder County and its “brand” is ridiculous. Roundup Ready sugar beets can already be grown on private land in Boulder County. Some, today, can be grown just across the road from open space or an organic producer.
The six growers who are being vilified for wanting to use Roundup Ready sugar beets as part of their crop rotation on Boulder County open space have contributed significantly to the success of the open space program. Some of them sold their land to the county so that it could remain open and in agricultural production. The alternative would have been to sell their land for private development and likely receive a much higher price than what they got from the county. But they didn’t. They knew open space and
agriculture was, and still is, important for the community.
Also mindboggling is that the Food and Agriculture Policy Council seems to think Boulder County doesn’t have a long-term plan in place to deal with genetically modified crops. In fact, Boulder County does have a process and has had a long-term policy in place since 2003, when it first considered whether or not to ban GMOs. The decision made at that time was to ban all GMOs, other than three varieties of corn, unless, through petition and scientific review, exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis. This is exactly the process that is taking place today, and the County Commissioners have simply asked the Parks and Open Space Committee and the Food and Ag Policy Council to study this issue and make recommendations to the Commissioners.
This issue is clearly a political one. The science is clear. What should be recognized is that a “yes” or “no” vote by the County Commissioners won’t lead to the financial downfall of Syngenta or Monsanto. It won’t lead to the success or failure of the sugar beet industry in this country. It also won’t lead to the success or failure of the area’s prospering organic industry. What it will do, however, is lead to the ultimate ability of six family farmers to remain in agriculture and to care for the public’s open space the way they have done on the same land for generations. I encourage Steve Demos or anyone else to talk to these six farmers about their operations. A civil dialogue would benefit everyone involved.
Troy Bredenkamp is executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau.
• See Perspectives story 2
GMOs throw precaution to the wind
by Philip Gordon
Proponents of genetically modified organisms proclaim that: (a) the FDA rigorously regulates them; (b) FDA policy is science-based; and (c) there is overwhelming scientific consensus that GMOs are safe. One would hope that this were true given that GMOs represent a radical departure from conventional methods of plant breeding. Congress recognized the need for such a precautionary principle back in 1958 when it declared “that additives created through new technologies be proven safe before they go to market.” This statute placed the burden of proof on the manufacturer requiring that foods containing new additives be presumed unsafe until proven safe.
However, a 1998 lawsuit filed against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by Steven Drucker, of the Alliance for Bio-Integrity, led to the public disclosure of internal FDA documents that convinced the presiding judge in the case to conclude the following: (a) The FDA is not regulating GE foods at all; (b) politically appointed bureaucrats at the FDA ignored the advice and warnings of its own scientific staff; and (c) there was no consensus among scientific experts regarding the safety of GE foods. Politics, not science, ruled the FDA’s decision to consider GE foods as “substantially equivalent” to their conventional counterparts and therefore “generally recognized as safe” until proven otherwise, thereby effectively inverting the precautionary principle.
Claims regarding Roundup’s and/or glyphosate’s “biodegradability” and lower toxicity have been voiced by both Parks and Open Space staff and committee members. Glyphosate is the active ingredient that’s always mixed with “inert” ingredients to produce the Roundup that’s applied in the field. This is an important distinction, as most of the toxicology studies have been conducted using glyphosate, the active ingredient alone, while few have been conducted with commercial products containing glyphosate and the “inert” ingredients. This distinction is very important to maintain for, as Caroline Cox reports in the Journal of Pesticide Reform (Fall 1995), “When toxicology testing is not done with the product as it is actually used, it is impossible to accurately assess its hazards.” Furthermore, some toxicology studies do suggest that the danger associated with the use of Roundup far exceeds the danger of glyphosate alone.
A lawsuit brought by the New York State Attorney General’s Office alleging “false advertising” forced Monsanto to drop most of its environment-friendly claims for its lucrative Roundup product line. Later, the French government successfully sued Monsanto, and once again biodegradability and low toxicity were among the claims in disputation. Moreover, on two occasions the EPA “caught scientists deliberately falsifying test results at research laboratories hired by Monsanto to study gylphosate.” In one case “the owner of the lab, and three employees were indicted on 20 felony counts, the owner was sentenced to 5 years in prison and fined 50,000 dollars, [while] the lab was fined 15.5 million dollars and [was] ordered to pay 3.7 million in restitution.”
Dr. Charles Benbrook’s 2004 report, Genetically Engineered Crops and Pesticide Use in the United States: the First Nine Years is a great place to fact-check Monsanto’s claim that its Roundup Ready technology is environment-friendly. For RR soybeans alone, Benbrook reports a net increase of 117 million pounds of herbicide applied over the first nine years of commercial production.
Updating Benbrook in 2009, the Center for Food Safety concluded that the cultivation of Roundup Ready crops is associated with large and accelerating increases in the use of glyphosate, proven to lead to an epidemic of glyphosate-tolerant weeds, which then leads to constant or rising use of older, more toxic herbicides such as 2,4-D (an active component of Agent Orange) and atrazine (often in combination with glyphosate), to control resistant weeds. It’s reasonable to assume that similar trends will occur with the GMO sugar beet variety recently approved by the FDA.
If the Boulder County Commissioners give this issue the attention that it deserves, they should reject the proposal to introduce additional GMOs onto open space land, but at the very least each commissioner should realize that there is absolutely no need to rush into a decision this year that we may regret the next. Little or no cost arises if we postpone the switch to GMO sugar beets. Whereas if the Boulder County Commissioners were to make a hasty decision, that is subsequently widely perceived throughout the community to be the wrong decision, it could prove very costly, especially in a year when the voters of Boulder County will be asked to extend the 0.25 percent Parks and Open Space sales and use tax from 2019, when it is currently set to expire, to 2034.
Citizens of Boulder County, now is the time for you to speak out. Your County Commissioners can be reached on the web at email@example.com; by mail at Boulder County Commissioners, P.O. Box 471, Boulder, CO 80306; by phone at 303-441-3500; or by fax at 303-441-4525. Or perhaps just show up on Aug. 25, when the County Commissioners are scheduled to vote on this proposal. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on the Third Floor of the County Courthouse, located on the Pearl Street Mall.
Philip Gordon lives in Boulder.
• See Perspectives story 1
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