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Local Government Bans GM Crops to Decrease Pesticide Use While County Continues to Use Pesticide

March 7, 2018
The use of fearmongering around genetically modified (GM) crops by the organic industry has led to ballot initiatives in several states and counties looking to ban the technology. Arguably, the most famous example was highlighted in Food Evolution when Hawaii outlawed GM crops only to reverse course and rely on the technology to save one of the state’s most popular exports, the papaya, from being wiped out by disease.

In a recent piece for the Daily Camera, Mara Abbott looks at a similar case currently taking place on the U.S. mainland in Boulder County, Colorado. Abbott writes about Boulder County’s Cropland Policy, which was passed in 2016 and bans the use of GM crops on county-owned open land. As a result, many farmers that lease land from the county are prohibited from growing GM crops.

Spearheaded by county commissioners Elise Jones and Deb Gardner, the underlying goal of the ban was to decrease the use of glyphosate, a pesticide that is commonly used on GM crops. As part of the ban, county officials were to conduct research on alternatives to GM crops to help farmers who leased county land and were now on the wrong side of the law. However, as Abbott points out, the county looked to uneven the playing field in their favor during the bidding process for the research project:

The original research project vision, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Initiative — SARII — was scrapped last fall due to accusations of a fixed process in the first bid attempt and a lack of interest from viable tenants in the second.

Fast forward more than a year later and inaction by the county allowed field bindweed to start taking over the land that was to be researched. And, as a result:

Acting on a desire to reduce the use of pesticides, the county commissioners held a piece of land out of production for over a year, hoping to use it for a research project that failed before it even started, during which time enough weeds grew on the property that the county staff had to treat them with the very chemical Jones and Gardner wished to avoid.

Pretty ironic, right? But, what’s even more ironic? While glyphosate is continuing to be used by county officials, farmers looking to lease county land to grow GM crops – which have “allowed the local farmers to be more targeted and effective with pesticides, reducing [glyphosate] use compared to previously grown conventional crops by 80 percent” – are restricted from doing so.

As Abbott writes in closing:

The GMO ban overly simplified the challenges of a complex industry.

Read Mara Abbott’s full piece here.