GMOs: Boulder County’s November surprise

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Boulder is full of Democrats — Ds outnumber Rs two-to-one — so the county’s election results didn’t exactly come as a bolt from the blue.

Every Democrat on the ballot in Boulder County won in Boulder County. Mark Udall and John Hickenlooper each got more than two-thirds of the votes cast in their races in Boulder County. Jared Polis got more than three-fourths. Almost all of the proposals involving tax increases in Boulder County and Boulder County cities passed.

Amendment 67, the anti-abortion “personhood” amendment was rejected by more than 80 percent of Boulder County voters. In other words, there weren’t any surprises in the county election returns.

With one exception. Boulder County voters rejected Proposition 105, the GMO labeling initiative, by a vote of 71,180 “no” to 68,120 “yes,” a 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent margin. The proposition would have required that foods produced from plants or animals that have been genetically modified or treated with genetically modified materials be labeled “Produced with genetic engineering.”

Statewide, Proposition 105 was smashed flat. As of last weekend, the vote on the issue was 1,317,179 “no” (65.47 percent) vs. 694,624 “yes” (34.53 percent). Although the vote in Boulder County was much closer, the fact that it lost here at all is nonetheless telling, given that opposition to GMOs has been a litmus test for local left activists for years.

How to account for the loss? Chances are the preening greens and food cranks who sponsored the initiative will claim that it was because Monsanto and like-minded companies poured millions of dollars in anti-initiative advertising into Colorado that drowned out the Prop 105 supporters side of the debate and fooled hundreds of thousands of ignorant, gullible Coloradans into voting “no.”

In a pig’s eye. For openers, Prop 105 backers made some political amateurs’ mistakes. They assumed that successfully petitioning their initiative onto the ballot was tantamount to passing it, and that the case for the initiative was so self-evident that they didn’t have to run much of a campaign on its behalf.

When a petition drive succeeds in putting an initiative on the ballot, the proponents often say, in so many words, “Our work is done.” The truth is that’s when the real work begins.

If you want to pass an initiative, any initiative, you have to run a serious campaign on its behalf — one that gives voters both good reasons to vote for it and, more important, convincingly answers the arguments of the opposition.

You also have to have the financial and/or human resources to beat back a campaign against the measure. You don’t have to match your opponents dollar for dollar, volunteer for volunteer, or ad for ad, but you do have to have sufficient resources to ensure that your side is heard and that you can respond swiftly and robustly to attacks.

In the case of Prop 105, supporters were caught flat-footed when opponents started pushing back hard less than a month before the election.

Second, the suggestion that hundreds of thousands of Colorado voters were fooled by a Monsanto media blitz assumes that the voters were unfamiliar with Prop 105 supporters’ arguments against GMOs — despite the fact that those arguments have been routinely presented in the mainstream media for more than 20 years.

Indeed, it’s hard to think of any green cause that has been the beneficiary of more sympathetic and uncritical coverage in the press.

In the case of Boulder County, voters have been marinated in anti-GMO propaganda since at least 2003, when the folks at the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center spearheaded an anti- GMO crusade against planting GMO corn on county land. They launched a separate pogrom against GMO sugar beets on county land in 2009. Both failed, but each went on for years. Ultimately one reason that does not account for why Boulder County voters chose to reject Proposition 105 is lack of exposure to the anti-GMO narrative.

Third, GMO opponents routinely conflate their opposition to GMOs with shrill anti-corporatism. The real passion within the movement — the real venom — is directed against corporations, not GMOs. That gives a lot of voters the impression that they are dealing not with an environmental or food safety issue but with radicals with a hidden Marxist agenda. Moderate voters tend to gag on that.

Fourth, although Boulder County is often stereotyped as a green/new age/ neo-hippy oasis, the county’s economy is defined by intensely knowledge-based institutions and businesses (like CU, NIST, NCAR, IBM, Sun, Amgen and scores of high tech and life science startups). It is also one of the most exuberantly entrepreneurial places on the planet. In other words, Boulder County is chock full of people who are into a) the scientific method, b) the age of reason, and c) free enterprise — values routinely rejected, demonized and defamed by the anti-GMO food cranks behind Prop 105. And they vote.

One final point. It wasn’t Monsanto that killed Proposition 105. It was farmers. The anti-Proposition 105 campaign consisted almost entirely of Colorado farmers and other members of the agricultural community urging people to vote “no” on grounds that Prop 105 posed a threat to consumer food prices, the economic viability of Colorado’s agricultural sector and to their livelihoods.

Here’s an inconvenient little truth:

When it comes to issues involving agriculture, most people find farmers more knowledgeable and credible than green activists. And less rude.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

This opinion column does not reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

 

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