According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, 88 percent of the 2011 U.S. corn crop consists of genetically engineered varieties — either herbicide-tolerant types like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn, or insect-resistant types containing genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), or both. The figure for the 2011 U.S. soybean crop is 94 percent genetically modified. For the 2011 cotton crop the figure is 90 percent genetically modified.
As for sugar beets, the crop that prompted the latest local witch-hunt about growing genetically modified crops on Boulder County open space, the figure for the 2010 crop is 95 percent, according to The New York Times.
The foregoing raises an obvious question about the controversy over growing genetically modified crops on Boulder County open space, which is, why are we even having this conversation? The genie is out of the bottle. The horse is out of the barn. The train has left the station. The attempt to ban GM crops on county open space is meaningless environmental posturing. It would be farcical except for the fact that it is trashing the livelihoods of several Boulder County farm families.
Are GM crops perfectly safe?
Probably not. No activity involving humans is “perfectly safe.” But GM crops are clearly safe enough. GM crops have been grown for 15 years. Anti-GMO activists talk darkly of possible toxins and allergens tainting the food supply, but after 15 years there is a distinct paucity of victims. Given the pervasiveness of Roundup Ready and Bt corn and soybeans, there should be hundreds of thousands of human cases of GMO-induced human illness and tens of millions of sick chickens, pigs and cows. So far, few, if any, convincing examples have emerged.
What has emerged is that some weeds have managed to incorporate the Roundup Ready resistant gene and develop resistance to Roundup. Anti-GMO activists want to believe this is a show-stopper, but it is hard to see why it would be. All it means is that seed companies will develop different herbicides and find genes that impart resistance to them to add to their offerings, or find other work-arounds.
American agriculture has embraced GM crops and the science behind them, and it is not going to give them up because there might be downsides any more than it would give up tractors because they might contribute to global warming. So to return to the original question: Why is Boulder County having this conversation?
No mystery there. Anti-GMO activists see opposition to agricultural genetic engineering as a political organizing tool and as an avenue for attacking American corporations — which they do with an irrational virulence.
For example, a recent letter writer to the Camera characterized the GMO biotech industry as “built on corruption, bribery, intimidation, government complicity and falsehood.”
“The Monsantos, Syngentas, etc. are not to be trusted,” he added.
Well, the guy is entitled to his opinion, but personally I think Monsanto is a lot more trustworthy and has a lot more integrity than the folks at, say, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center who routinely besmirch both Monsanto and its products. Monsanto probably does more good in a week — by preventing famine on a planet whose human population is growing at a rate of 80 million a year, by making it possible for Third World peoples who have scratched out a subsistence existence since the dawn of time to produce the agricultural surpluses that are a necessary precondition for developing First World standards of living — than the entire peace and justice movement has produced in a generation.
The author of the letter also intimated that he “was warned as a child to be very careful about who I hang out with.”
Good point. He ought to take a good look at the denizens of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, the prime instigator of the local anti-GMO program, before hanging with them. The biggest environmental accomplishment of these folks was helping to delegitimize nuclear power a generation ago. The result of that “triumph” has been that three-quarters of the world’s electric power is produced by burning coal and natural gas and will continue to be for decades. They are as responsible for global warming as any oil or mining company.
Back in the 1970s the ideological predecessors of today’s anti-GMO activists were attacking Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution, which is widely credited with preventing global famine and saving a billion lives, with the same zeal with which they are attacking GMOs today — and with strikingly similar arguments: Someone is going to make money selling the seeds, poor farmers can’t afford the seeds and the fertilizers and pesticides they need, the new crops may hold hidden dangers and be setting the world up for a fall, etc.
To hear the activists tell it, anti- GMO activism represents the apotheosis of environmental morality.
Just my opinion, but I don’t find tampering with the world’s ability to feed itself for political gain a very moral undertaking. In fact, I think it is malignantly evil — and that Boulder County should reject the counsel of those who do it like a disease.