Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

Ongoing coverage by Boulder Weekly staff since 2001

Boulder Weekly Staff | Boulder Weekly

For more than a decade, Boulder Weekly has been a national leader when it comes to reporting on the critical issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), GMO seeds and foods, the movement to label GE food products, and the dangerous practices of monopolistic companies such as Monsanto and DuPont that now control both the politics and the seeds that are at the heart of our food supply and its continued safety.

For a lot of folks in Boulder County, the subject of GMOs became a hot button issue in the past two years or so, as heated debates about whether genetically engineered sugar beets should be allowed to be grown on publicly owned open space broke out in packed rooms before our county commissioners. But the subject of GMOs isn’t new to Boulder Weekly readers, because the paper has been providing significant coverage on the subject for more than a decade.

BW reporter Joel Warner was covering the issue just after the turn of the century when California’s Mendocino County was trying to become the first place in the country to ban GMOs. It was a prescient article, considering what has occurred over the last few years in our neck of the woods.

In August 2009, Weekly Editor Pamela White not only did an excellent explanatory piece on what was happening at that time within the GMO sugar beets/open space debate, she also discovered for the first time that the biotech industry had infiltrated our local debate by paying consultants, who never acknowledged their ties to the industry, to attend public meetings and make misleading statements about the safety and value of GMO crops. It’s fair to say that local citizens were shocked by the industry’s deceptive tactics. But if our readers were shocked in 2009, they would become angry a couple of years later, when another Weekly exposé discovered an incredibly elaborate attempt by the biotech industry to deceive county residents and sway our local government under false pretenses.

In November 2011, the Weekly’s Jefferson Dodge and Joel Dyer were working on a cover story regarding the swelling controversy of GMOs on open space, attending the last few public meetings prior to when the county commissioners were to deliver their final ruling on the issue.

“We had been covering the commissioner meetings for quite a while,” says Dodge. “In every meeting the audience had been overwhelmingly opposed to GMOs. Then, we went to the very last public meeting, and when we walked into the room where maybe 400 people were milling around, we were shocked to see an ocean of green hats with the acronym F.A.I.R. written across the front. All of those people in the hats were pro-GMO. It was completely different than any public GMO meeting to date, and we immediately smelled a rat.”

Dodge and Dyer knew they had only a few days to investigate their story before the commissioners would vote. By the next week, the pair was able to report that the organization that had swamped the last meeting was little more than the green hats that were worn that night. The Weekly reported the names of several large biotech companies and organizations, including Monsanto, the Farm Bureau, Corn Growers Association and Syngenta, to name a few, that had paid to create the turnout and the show of hats at the Boulder County meeting. The Corn Growers Association had also paid for all of the ads in the Camera supposedly placed by the nonprofit organization F.A.I.R., a questionable tactic from a legal standpoint.

The investigation also discovered that the Farm Bureau had asked its members from all over the state to attend the Boulder County meeting and speak on behalf of GMOs. And finally, Dodge and Dyer uncovered a threat by at least one Republican member of the Colorado legislature (who had won an award from a biotech industry trade organization funded by Monsanto, DuPont and other multinational companies) to defund Boulder County at the state level if our commissioners did, in fact, vote to prevent GMO sugar beets from being planted on open space lands. What was a local issue to most citizens of Boulder County was obviously an issue with huge national and even international implications for the biotech companies. Boulder had become a front line in the global effort to eliminate, or at least label, GMOs.

The Weekly has also been a national leader in its reporting on the need for the labeling of all products containing GMOs. The paper’s articles regularly gain national attention and are frequently republished by other magazines, newspapers and websites. One of the Weekly’s most recent articles on GMOs was an exposé titled “Monsanto’s point of no return” by Editor Joel Dyer. In this piece, Dyer explored how consolidation within the seed industry has led to not only most U.S. crops being genetically modified, but how even when farmers want to plant non- GMOs, there is often no traditional seed available in the marketplace. Dyer found that most of the traditional non-GE seed companies in the world have been purchased by the four largest GMO seed companies, which are quickly phasing out the traditional seeds from the market, in essence forcing farmers to plant the companies’ patented, genetically modified seeds that must be repurchased each year. With a dwindling number of varieties of corn, soy, sugar beets and other major food crops now being grown, scientists are warning that our food supply could be in peril if our crops, with DNA that is now dangerously homogenous, were hit by the right disease or pest infestation.

“Most people are mainly concerned about the health and environmental threats associated with GMOs, and rightly so,” says Dyer. “But what I found while researching my Monsanto piece was that Monsanto’s business model may, in fact, be the single biggest threat to the global food supply.

“And sadly,” Dyer continues, “thanks to the political power that Monsanto and its seed monopoly friends have acquired by buying politicians via campaign donations and hiring Washington insiders when they leave office or the White House administration, it may already be too late to stop Monsanto. Even if voters demand labeling on GMO products, it doesn’t make any difference if there isn’t any non-GE seed left in the world to replant. That’s the point of no return, and we’re getting there fast, if we haven’t already passed it.”

Needless to say, after more than a decade of GMO coverage, Boulder Weekly will continue to inform our readers with long-form explanatory and investigative journalism on the important issue of GMOs.