Roaring Fork Valley food producers support Proposition 105 | SummitDaily.com

Roaring Fork Valley food producers support Proposition 105

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Roaring Fork Valley food producers overwhelmingly support a proposed law that would require labels for foods with genetically modified organisms.

Most food producers contacted by The Aspen Times said the Colorado Right to Know Act is a first step in the right direction that can be built on over time. Voters in the November election will decide the fate of Proposition 105, as the act is known on the ballot.

Brook LeVan, director and a founder of Sustainable Settings, a nonprofit sustainable-agriculture operation south of Carbondale, said his support for the proposition is simple: "We need to get a foothold in labeling. I think we have a right to know."

The proposal would require labeling of most genetically modified food. Makers of prepared foods would have to make special labels for products shipped to Colorado if the measure passes.

Right to Know, which is supporting the ballot measure, says people have a right to know what they are eating so they can make educated decisions. The proponents aren't trying to ban use of GMOs — they just want transparency.

Opponents, including the Colorado Farm Bureau, claim the complicated labeling system would hit households hard in the pocketbook because grocery prices would rise. Food producers would charge more for the extra work on the Colorado labels, and the state would have to beef up its regulatory powers to monitor and enforce the labeling.

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Foes also are critical of Proposition 105 inconsistency because of loopholes. Meat and dairy products would be exempt from the GMO label requirement. The Colorado Farm Bureau website argued that existing labels already provide consumers with enough information. Foods that are certified organic are GMO-free. There is another label for "non-GMO verified," but that's a voluntary program.

LeVan said he hates regulation and prefers to grow his own food or buy it from producers he knows don't use GMOs. Sustainable Settings sells everything from turkeys during the holidays to produce at farmers markets and eggs year-round.

"Personally, if it has a label on it, I'm suspect," he said.

But in this case, labels are necessary because genetic engineering is so prevalent in industrial agriculture, he said. Right to Know Colorado contends that 70 percent of foods sold in grocery stores include genetically engineered ingredients.

"We need to know what we're putting in our bodies. It's making us sick," LeVan said.

There have been no long-term studies on the health effects of GMO foods, but many people fear there are consequences.

LeVan said he is concerned about the use of genetically engineered seeds that allow the release of herbicides in a crop, such as corn or alfalfa, as it grows. He is concerned about the potential health effects.

While LeVan is suspicious of seed manufacturers such as Monsanto, Jerome Osentowski is downright disdainful.

"We need a full-blown war against Monsanto," said Osentowski, the founder and director of Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute. The institute grows food on the sunny southern slopes of Basalt Mountain and runs a variety of sustainable-agriculture programs and workshops.

Osentowski is concerned that genetically modified soybeans and corn will put 2,4-D, an herbicide, back into the system on a large scale.

"They put the herbicides right in your food," he said. "You don't want to put something in your body that's altered."

Proposition 105 is opposed by most farm and ranch associations, but some individual ranchers support the measure. Marj Perry, who operates the Cold Mountain Ranch cattle operation south of Carbondale with her husband, Bill Fales, said she supports transparency.

"It's been bothering me for a long time," she said of GMO foods.

The proposed labeling "won't be perfect" because of the loopholes, but it's a start, Perry said. She is optimistic that if enough states pass similar measures, there will be more scientific study on the health effects of GMO foods.

Voters in Connecticut, Maine and Vermont have approved the use of labels. Oregon will join Colorado in voting on a proposal this year.

Perry said she hasn't heard a lot of discussion about Proposition 105 among farmers and ranchers.

"More from the housewife circle than the food-producer circle," she said.

The use of genetically modified seeds is so widespread among grains and legumes that some livestock operations are taking steps to make sure their animals aren't eating them.

LeVan said he has removed alfalfa from Sustainable Settings' pastures because GMO seeds for the perennial legume have been approved. Even if he doesn't use such seeds, he's afraid seeds from someone transporting alfalfa on Highway 133 past his pastures will invade his crop.

Jason Smith, director of Rock Bottom Ranch, which has expanded its sustainable-agriculture operation, said he purchases non-GMO grain from Montrose to feed livestock. Rock Bottom raises pigs, turkeys, sheep and chickens. It also grows produce and vegetables. Its food is sold to the public.

"We don't have GMOs on this farm. It's not going to affect us," he said of the labeling proposal.

Smith said he personally supports Proposition 105.

"I like to know where our food comes from," he said.

Whole Foods Market, which makes a variety of organic foods available, has endorsed Proposition 105 but hasn't released a policy statement on the issue.

scondon@aspentimes.com