Acknowledging that the group of three commissioners was split before the final vote, two commissioners overrode the position of the third commissioner to require farmers who lease land from the county to phase out genetically modified (GMO) corn and sugar beets.
It was in Longmont in 2011, in the early stages of public comment hearings, that dozens of people turned out to lay down their concerns about GMO crops. At that 2011 meeting, dozens of speakers opposed to GMOs far outweighed those supporting their use. But those voices were largely absent from tonight’s meeting, although county staff acknowledged that 34 comments submitted online were mixed in opposition to, and in support of GMOs. Comments in support of eliminating GMOs on public land said, “Why aren’t you doing this tomorrow?”
County staff acknowledged that the primary concern coming from online comments whether in support or in opposition to GMOs seems to be on the sustainability of agriculture and in particular the use of herbicides and neonicotinoids, and their impact on the environment. There were questions about what “sustainable agriculture” actually looks like.
Those challenging the phase-out proposal – that suggests a 3-5 year deadline – criticized the lack of detail in the proposal. Others who criticized online said, “We are the farmers. Don’t micromanage us. Give us a timeline to work with and let us use our skills in a way that works for us.”
But Commissioner Elise Jones opposed Commissioner Cindy Domenico’s motion to extend the timeline to 5-7 years for a final phase-out. Both Commissioners Jones and Deb Gardner refused to second Domenico’s motion with Jones explaining, “I don’t support that so I can’t second it.”
Commissioner Elise Jones recognized those of the public that commissioners, over a 6-year period have heard from who oppose GMO crops on open-space county land, but also said that farmers have been in constant contact with commissioners as well.
A wide group of farmers who said they currently lease land from the county appeared in person to raise issues of the lack of current research on GMO safety and that most research doesn’t support the dangers of GMOs. Other farmers said that they feel vulnerable financially to ask for bank loans under what financial institutions might consider a risky investment to change from a known agricultural practice to a new unfamiliar one. Some sugar beet farmers raised cost issues that are specific to harvesting sugar beets where equipment specific to only sugar beet farming such as simulators, will need to be cashed out if the farmer feels forced to change crops for example.
Boulder resident David Wheeler (pictured at left) who represents Bee Safe Boulder, in testimony pointed to an October 29, 2016 report by The New York Times that reviewed data collected by the United Nations and showed that GMO crops have not out-perfomed nonGMO crops globally, “That doesn’t mean that Boulder is like the rest of the world. This is not just about GMOs, this is about pesticides. Organics are the largest growing sector of the food market in the US today. We should respond to that and create an organic, healthy-for-the-environment, healthy-for-the-planet world, and help the farmers transition into that.”
Commissioners Deb Gardner and Elise Jones fulfilled their election campaign promises to phase out GMOs and voted for the 3-5 year proposal while Commissioner Cindy Domenico voted in opposition.
Public comment contributing to the formulation of a Request for Proposal (RFP) will be submitted to the public in the upcoming days where individuals can ask for clarity or make suggestions to a final proposal. Those comments can be submitted to the Boulder County Commissioners’ website in the upcoming few weeks after it is expected to be posted in the next few days.