JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Julie James Ott figures she’s half way to eliminating genetically modified organisms from the scratch she feeds 450 layer hens at the family ranch in the north Animas Valley.
“I’ve eliminated soy and substituted sunflower seeds to give them protein, fiber and oil,” Ott said recently in the barnyard as she spread scratch, a seed mixture, for throngs of red star, black star and Americana hens. “My winter project is to find a way to eliminate corn feed, which also is GMO.”
She also feeds her hens spent barley from Ska Brewing Co. and cabbage leaves and lettuce cores from Zia Taqueria.
Ott is among the growing opposition to GMOs, most recently highlighted by the narrow defeat in California of Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of raw or processed food made from plants or animals with certain genetic changes.
Proponents of GMOs say genetic engineering has been proved scientifically safe. GMOs, they say, can improve desired traits in plants and animals, produce larger yields and increase resistance to disease and unfavorable climate. The technology also can lead to better human and animal health, they say.
Opponents say genetic modification, around since the 1990s, has not been tested thoroughly and goes into products unlabeled. Genetic alteration can cause reproductive aberrations in animals, adversely affect human health and can contaminate non-GMO crops through insects, wind or pollen, they say.
No one apparently can say for sure how many GMOs are found in Southwest Colorado.
Darrin Parmenter, director of the Colorado State University Extension office in Durango, said as far as he knows, there is no GMO corn or alfalfa grown in La Plata County.
Ronnie Posey, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in Durango, seconds Parmenter.
“I’m not aware of GMO crops in the county,” Posey said.
Richard Parry of Fox Fire Farms, who raises cattle and sheep organically for big-auction sales, doesn’t use GMO feed. But he estimated that 99 percent of corn feed probably is GMO and 90 percent of soy protein feed is GMO.
Basin Coop feed department manager Don Dukart carries organic chicken scratch and organic soy feed that he buys from out of the area. But he also mixes his own organic hen scratch.
“I can’t guarantee that the corn in the scratch that I prepare is organic,” Dukart said. “I buy corn from several sources.”
Foes of GMOs are speaking out.
“I don’t want my money to support GMOs because they manipulate what nature intended,” Ott said. “GMOs produce a monoculture that destroys our top soil.”
The public must have the choice of whether to buy products with GMOs, said Ott, whose egg cartons prominently announce they are soy-free.
Laurie Hall, who has 80 acres near Cortez, 40 of them in non-GMO alfalfa and hay, raises organic vegetables to serve at her Farm Bistro restaurant in Cortez.
“GMOs are risky,” Hall said. “We just don’t know all the ramifications because they can cross-pollinate.
“If organic produce is contaminated, it can’t be certified as organic,” Hall said. “The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t say that GMOs are harmful, but doctors are finding through research that GMOs can cause health problems.”
Julie Meadows, a Durango real estate broker, is coordinating an effort to fight GMO use in Colorado. She has created a Facebook page for GMO Free Colorado and is setting up a website.
Prop 37 on the Nov. 6 ballot in California to require labeling of GMO food sold to the public was defeated 53 percent to 47 percent under a barrage of radio, print and television ads.
Supporters of GMOs – the biggest names in the food industry – outspent proponents of Prop 37 $45.6 million to $8.7 million to defeat it. Monsanto alone spent $8.1 million.
The names of opponents can be found on packaging in most supermarket aisles. Among them: Pepisco, Bayer, Kraft, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg, Del Monte, Hershey, Heinz, Hormel, Sara Lee, Dole and Campbell’s.
A federal court in November, citing violation of environmental laws, ordered the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to stop planting genetically engineered crops, under cooperative farming agreements, in national wildlife refuges in its 10-state Southeast Division.
In a related matter, Mother Jones magazine reported this month that the Department of Justice dropped without even a news release its antitrust probe into possible anti-competitive practices in the seed market, dominated by Monsanto, DuPont and Dow.