Originally published by Times-Call Region News
November 30th, 2016
by John Fryar
Boulder County will proceed with a policy and plan for phasing out the growing of genetically modified corn and sugar beets on county-owned farmland, county commissioners decided on a 2-1 Wednesday night vote.
Tenant farmers who have been growing genetically engineered corn on the lands they lease from the county can continue to plant it next year but will have to end using county-owned fields for GMO corn crops by the end of 2019. The staff-produced transition plan was approved by Commissioners Elise Jones and Deb Gardner but opposed by Commissioner Cindy Domenico.
Genetically engineered sugar beets will continue to be allowed for the next five years but will have to be phased out completely by the end of 2021.
While farmers who have been planting such crops have argued that independent scientific research into the relative benefits and problems accompanying the techniques of growing of GMO and non-GMO crops should precede any phase-out, Gardner and Jones said such research could be done concurrently with the three- and five-year transitions.
"I think it's important to go ahead and set the deadlines now," Jones said.
Without deadlines, Gardner said, governments often "don't make a lot of changes," so the GMO transition plan needs "concrete time frames."
Domenico, however, argued unsuccessfully that research into possible alternatives for GMO crops — and whether those non-GMO crops would actually be safer or more environmentally beneficial than genetically engineered crops — "has to be done before the transition clock starts."
Domenico, who grew up on a Lafayette-area farm, questioned how people who support scientific findings about humans contributing to climate change can deny science about the safety of GMO crops.
The commissioners' split vote on proceeding with the plan followed a nearly two-hour public hearing at which 30 people spoke in support of or opposition to genetically engineered crops and the proposed plan for phasing them out.
Famuer Rasmussen Jr., who identified himself as a third-generation Colorado family farmer and a representative of the Farmers Alliance for Integrated Resources, told commissioners that "the deadlines in the current transition document do not represent a reasonable compromise between the farmers' call for research first and the non-farming activists who — with zero idea of what they're talking about — want the transition to happen immediately."
Said Rasmussen, a Longmont-area resident who leases land from the county: "Do not think that you can do a couple years' worth of research and then reassess at the last minute if the research isn't panning out. If you set a three-year deadline for corn and then discover, 2 ½ years in that the research isn't working, it's too late to pivot. Your local family farmers could be gone, and it will be your fault."
But Mark Guttridge, owner of the Longmont-area Ollin Farms, said that while he has the utmost respect for "old-school farmers," specific deadlines for the GMO phase-outs are needed.
"Nothing gets done unless there is a deadline," Guttridge said. Without them, "the research will drag on forever."
Mary Lamy, a Hygiene-area hay farmer, objected that the transition plan will give farmers too little time to make good decisions about what to grow in the future.
However, Mary Mulry, a member of Boulder County's Food Systems Advisory Council, said "I'm totally in support" of the transition plan, and she commended the commissioners for having been "visionary" in their goal of converting more county-owned land to organic farming.
Domenico was unable to get Jones and Gardner to go along with delaying the timetable for GMO phase-outs. But Jones and Gardner did agree that the plan should include annual status checks of how the phase-outs and the concurrent cropland research are proceeding, with a possibility of amending the transition after it begins.
Following the meeting, Dan Lisco, president of the Farmers Alliance for Integrated Resources, said the outcome was "what we expected."