The results are in: Boulder County residents want access to locally grown, organic food and, by a slim margin, also support the planting of genetically modified crops. Anyone else confused? In a survey of nearly 600 voters commissioned by the county to address issues related to agriculture and food markets, 46 percent said they believe genetically modified organisms are a scientific advance, while 41 percent agreed GMOs are harmful. Thirteen percent didn't know or weren't sure.
Though the margins were close, having read the survey, I can't help but wonder if these surprising findings aren't due to how the questions were worded. Respondents were read two statements and asked which came closer to representing how they feel. The first statement said, "GMOs are harmful to human health, and crop production using GMO technology is harmful to the environment." The second statement said, "GMOs are a scientific advance that will allow us to reduce the use of synthetic pesticides and reduce erosion and carbon footprint of farming and to better feed a rapidly growing world population."
Essentially, the statement in favor of GMOs was much stronger than the statment in opposition of these crops. I wonder what the results would have been if instead the first option had read, "GMOs are harmful and have been linked to increased allergic reactions in humans. Crop production using GM technology is considered a cause for ocean dead zones and the creation of pesticide-resistant weeds."
At stake is 18,000 acres of Boulder County cropland that, if planted with GM seeds, could increase the risk of cross-pollination with nearby organic farms. By banning GMOs on this land, Boulder County has an opportunity to set a precedent that could hopefully draw the attention of the rest of the country, but it appears voters aren't clear on the issue. In response to a question about how important it is to buy organic vegetables, 68 percent of respondents said "very" or "pretty" important.
I'm happy to live in Boulder, one of the most progressive cities in the nation. We're paving the way for healthier school lunches, natural foods stores thrive on nearly every block and we're some of the least overweight people in the country. Even Forbes magazine ranked Boulder as the most educated city in America. If our residents believe GMOs may be an answer to "better feed a rapidly growing world population" and overwhelmingly also support organic agriculture, I can imagine how residents must be confused on this issue in every other American city.
Next up, county commissioners will open the floor to concerned parties and allow 10 speakers 3 minutes to present their cases. It has not yet been announced when the issue is up for vote, but until then, expect a contentious fight from non-GMO activists, myself among them.