Genetic engineering on your plate
What is a brand worth? I've been pondering this question since last week's meeting at the Boulder Public Library lead by Jeffery Smith, author of Seeds of Deception. The meeting aimed to organize people concerned with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply and engage them to become activists.
I had expected the group to be retired hippies and significantly left of center politicos. It was nothing of the sort! There were members from healthcare, childcare, education, various media outlets including radio, several restaurants, and other industries. Everyone came with the same concern: How to identify GMO products in the food supply so that they can be avoided.
The difference between hybrid engineered foods and GMO engineered foods is basic. With hybrid engineering, the bioengineers breed like species repeatedly to obtain favorable traits. For example, an arctic strawberry plant with a regular strawberry plant to develop a plant that will thrive in cooler climates.
With GMO engineering the species are wholly unrelated. The bioengineers insert DNA from one entity into another. An example of GMO engineering is crossing corn with a pesticide so that the plant becomes tolerant to specific pesticide products.
The problem with GMOs is that the gene that enables tolerance for pesticides remains in the food part of the plant and ends up on your dinner plate. In the example of corn, it also shows up in your crackers, bread, chips and everywhere else that corn and corn oil is used.
Back to the brand question: What is it worth?
Boulder has a global reputation. One it has built since its inception. The reputation centers on clean and green. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times lead their stories with comments on the healthy lifestyle reputation of Boulder. Mars, the candy company, recently introduced a new product, Goodness Knows, into the Boulder market. They are testing it and the advertisements are entertaining - poking fun at Boulder's active lifestyle; it's reputation.
The Boulder Brand
Boulder was founded as the place to go for clean air during the peak of the Industrial Era, coal-fired manufacturing heyday, pre-environmental legislation. Then came the Chautauqua Movement and with it Chautauqua Park. This movement was about clean lifestyles: body, mind, and soul. This is the essence, the roots, the foundation of Boulder: the Boulder brand.
Companies set up shop in Boulder and are able to draw talent from around the world by promoting quality of life as a company benefit. Conferences and forums are held in Boulder, all of them promoting the active extracurricular activities available to encourage participants to bring their families. Cruise the Boulder Chamber of Commerce site and you will see heavy promotion of the Boulder brand as it lures companies to consider Boulder.
What is this worth? How much money is generated by companies moving to the area, and conferences and forums being held in Boulder? How many permanent, solid paying jobs are created by the businesses? How many jobs are created by extension to support the employees and their families? All of this is revenue generating for the city; revenue in the form of taxes, parking meters, sales receipts, event receipts, and much more.
What is the Boulder brand Worth? My guess would be millions of dollars annually.
If this is true, then why would Boulder's Board of County Commissioners even consider allowing GMO crops to be planted on open space? To do so would be to throw away the Boulder Brand and all that it represents for the community.
The Commissioners kicked the can down the road in late August, but a decision will need to be made soon for the 2011 planting season. The Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee voted in favor (6-1) of allowing GMO sugar beets to be planted. The Food and Agriculture Policy Council voted against (10-3) the idea. To obtain more information on both sides of the discussion, go here.
In August a federal court ruled that the USDA's approval of Monsanto's genetically engineered "Roundup Ready" sugar beets was unlawful, concluding that the USDA had failed to conduct an adequate analysis of the impacts of this crop on farmers and the environment. The ruling made Monsanto's GMO beets illegal to plant or sell until the USDA completes a rigorous review of the potential impacts of the beets to farmers, the environment and the public and makes a new decision whether to allow commercialization, a process the USDA anticipates will take until 2012.
The USDA has proposed allowing the planting of GMO sugar beets in 2011. This proposal appears to be in violation of federal rulings. However, this is what Boulder County Commissioners are waiting on before making their decision to completely and unequivocally destroy the Boulder brand.
The USDA is taking comments on the proposal to allow GMO sugar beet planting in 2011 until December 6 here.
The Boulder brand, whether you are part of it or not, is worth at least a few minutes of your time to say no to GMOs and the USDA.