Talking Green program to focus on food from genetically engineered crops | SteamboatToday.com

Talking Green program to focus on food from genetically engineered crops

— A Steamboat Springs audience will have the opportunity to hear four viewpoints on the complex subject of genetically engineered food crops Tuesday when the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council hosts its latest Talking Green presentation at Colorado Mountain College.

Two of the speakers have different takes on how best to resist engineered crops, or GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Tisha Casida — of the Roaring Fork Valley, who sits on a national U.S. Department of Agriculture task force looking at GMOs — thinks the most effective approach is to support local food producers in one's area. Alicia McCleod, nutritional health coach for Natural Grocers in Steamboat, said her company thinks the best place to start is by advocating for requirements that genetically engineered foods be labeled as such.

Also speaking will be Anne Halloran, of Bamboo Market in Steamboat, and agro-ecologist Shawna Yaussi, of Grand County.

However, there isn't anyone on the panel advocating for GMOs and the economic efficiencies the USDA says they can create for agriculture producers.

The National Academy of Sciences reports that genetically engineered crops benefit farmers by reducing crop losses from insect damage, increase flexibility in time management and by allowing the use of more environmentally friendly pesticides and tillage practices. However, there might a downside.

"Excessive reliance on a single technology combined with a lack of diverse farming practices could undermine the economic and environmental gains from these genetically engineered crops," according to a 2010 report from the National Academy of Sciences.

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Halloran, who has a master's degree in nutrition, said she will talk about the potential health impacts of GMO foods.

A recent study by the USDA reports that 85 percent of U.S. corn acreage was devoted to plants that have been modified to be herbicide tolerant. And plantings of corn that have been modified with genes from a bacterium found in the soil that is known to contain a protein toxic to specific insects represent 76 percent of the total. The Bacillus thuringiensis corn varieties are resistant to the European corn borer and corn rootworm.

How can advocates for non GMO crops resist that tide?

"I think the answer is biodiversity," McCleod said. She pointed out that forests in the Rocky Mountain region that have greater diversity of plant species than the near monoculture of lodgepole pine stands have proven to be more resistant to the ravages of the mountain pine beetle.

"Why couldn't we do this on farms?" she asked. "Why do we have to have six miles of corn" in one field?

She thinks a federal requirement that food products containing GMOs be labeled as such is the straightest path to allowing consumers to vote with their dollars.

"If we end up with a dusty box of cereal, we will discontinue that product," McCleod said.

Casida — who owns a small business, That's Natural — has assembled a database of natural farmers in Colorado to help people find sources of food that have not been genetically modified. She is aware through her work with a USDA steering committee, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education initiative, that there are well-intentioned people within the agency.

"They're a great group of people who really focus on the producer level and helping farmers," she said. "But my biggest issue is that we really don't know how splicing the genes of plants and animals could affects us for generations. We should never have let this into our food supply. There should be more testing."

And she thinks the average person can be most effective working at the local level.

"I think it's really important to focus on local solutions through policy and consumption," she said. "Although it's admirable to attempt to have federal rules and regulations that would (lead to) labeling for GMO products, our best bet, really, is to find ways to fight back locally."

The USDA points out that BT corn, incorporating the bacterial protein that kills pests, reduces farmers' needs for chemical insecticides. McCleod counters that GMOs attack the nervous system of insects and no one really knows how that agent accumulates in the human nervous system through food production.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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