"Organic mecca" organizes against GMO sugar beets


The Boulder Daily Camera calls them "organic industry heavyweights." And they're out to make sure Boulder County Commissioners disallow the request of six area farmers to grow Roundup Ready sugar beets on open space land. Not because of the scientific and economic arguments against GMOs -- enumerated later -- but because it may besmirch the name of Boulder.

Steve Demos, who started the organic soy-product company White Wave 30 years ago in Boulder, told the Camera:

"The Boulder community derives billions of dollars in revenues — and I mean that literally — from association with the organic and natural products industry. If the headline when you wake up in the morning says on the national wire that the organic mecca has decided to grow GMO (genetically modified organism) beets on public land, that’s almost as effective in diluting a brand as if Rolls-Royce announced it was making an economy-model engine for airplanes. ... You’re playing with the identity of Boulder, Colorado.”

As much as I love organic food and distrust Monsanto (the company, along with the German corporation KWS, engineered the GMO beet to include a gene that is tolerant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide -- see Matt Jenkins' HCN story Brave New Hay), there's something annoying about Boulder's claim to represent the world of organic food, and by association, all that's sustainable and good.

I recall riding my bike to a well-known "wholistic" grocery in Boulder, weaving my way through the SUVs crowding the parking lot, then navigating the hordes of (often rude) shoppers inside the store, only to offer my "whole paycheck" for the food. The hypocrisy gets to you after a while: If these shoppers are so organic and pure, why aren't they walking or riding their bikes? Why is the kitchen populated by Spanish-speaking folks getting low wages? Why does it take my entire paycheck to feed myself?

Demos' comment reminds me of a young woman's response to a reporter's question about Rocky Flats, the nuclear-weapons-manufacturing-plant-turned-wildlife-refuge just 10 miles from Boulder. She wasn't concerned about the bombs, or the nuclear waste -- her concern was merely the proximity to Boulder, which was "embarrassing."

The effects of genetically modified crops are still largely unknown -- even though, as a commenter to the Camera article points out, Gregor Mendel altered the pea more than 150 years ago. Critics say GMOs have been linked to a host of health issues; that cross-pollination is inevitable, thus contaminating neighboring crops; that GMO crops can create "superweeds" that are immune to herbicides; and that using GMOs benefits Monsanto more than farmers and consumers.

The farmers who want to grow the sugar beets on open space say they will use less herbicide (they now use up to six herbicides to control weeds in their beet crops); that sugar beets bolt only every two years, making it less likely that the beets will contaminate nearby crops; that their yields will be greater. Finally, they argue that since nearly 90 percent of sugar beets now grown in the U.S. are modified, conventional seeds are hard to come by.

Turns out, too, that Boulder has been growing GMO corn on its open space since 2003. Oops, don't tell those organic shoppers. They shouldn't be putting sugar or corn syrup into their bodies anyway.


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