Group to decide on GMOs this week


A county cropland advisory group is poised to make its final decision on the use of genetically engineered crops on open space this week.

The nine-member Cropland Policy Advisory Group (CPAG) is scheduled to discuss the topic for the final time at a 5:30 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20, in the Parks and Open Space Building in Longmont, at 5201 St. Vrain Rd.

CPAG, which was appointed by the county commissioners after an outcry over a proposal to plant genetically engineered sugar beets two years ago, has been meeting since February to create recommendations for the commissioners to consider in forming a new comprehensive cropland policy.

On Aug. 17, the last time the group discussed its policy recommendations for using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on county open space, only two of the nine members spoke in favor of an outright ban on GMOs. Another two members said they were interested in the possibility of decreasing the use of GMOs on county land.

The majority of the group appears to be solidly in the camp of “co-existence,” an arrangement in which organic, traditional and GMO farmers are permitted to use open space for their crops as long as they undergo a county approval process and do their best to prevent the spread of negative impacts to their neighbors.

The apparent GMO-tolerant lean has some anti-GMO activists speculating about possible conspiracies, from GMO manufacturing giant Monsantofunded infiltrations to a board of county commissioners that could have stacked the deck to favor GMOs.

But County Commissioner Will Toor says nothing could be further from the truth.

“There is no conspiracy here,” he says. “I’ve never heard from anybody at Monsanto.”

Toor says that when the board appointed CPAG, the commissioners tried to strike a balance, with three organic farming representatives, three conventional farmers, and three openminded, thoughtful people who didn’t have a strong opinion either way.

“That’s just not the way that it works,” he says of the notion that the commissioners stacked the deck. “If we had wanted to do that, it would have been a heck of a lot easier to make a decision on sugar beets two years ago.”

CPAG member and organic farmer Ewell Culbertson told Boulder Weekly that he was never asked about his stance on GMOs when he was interviewed by the commissioners. Toor says the board was well aware of Culbertson’s anti-GMO stance, though.

Culbertson points out that CPAG is only one of many inputs the commissioners will consider when making their decision on GMOs.

Toor agrees, saying those inputs include the Food and Agriculture Policy Council, the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee, public comment periods, county staff recommendations, a literature review and the commissioners’ own scientific research.

When asked how much weight CPAG’s recommendations will carry, Toor says that for him, it will come down to the quality of the arguments and analysis supporting all of the recommendations the board receives.

“I think it’s too early in the process to say where I’m going to come down, and I can’t speak for my colleagues,” he says. “I do think it is a much more complicated issue than I originally anticipated it to be.”

An informal poll conducted this week on the Pearl Street Mall and the CU-Boulder campus revealed that more than half of the people contacted did not know what GMOs are.

“[GMOs] reside in guts and cause major increases in food allergies and immune deficiencies,” Christian Lepanto of Boulder told Boulder Weekly on Sept. 12. “The problem is a Frankenstein that will not easily be put down. We’re opening a Pandora’s box.”

Blair Madole contributed to this report. Respond: