The GMO Debate in Boulder: A Reporter’s Notebook

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Photo: Sugar beet field in Boulder County

Boulder County Commissioners decided to phase genetically modified crops off county-owned land earlier this month. The announcement put an end to a fierce debate that pitted the county's urban residents against its tenant farmers.

Luke Runyon reported on the story of KUNC and Harvest Public Media. He told Colorado Matter's host Ryan Warner how the hard lines on each side of the issue complicated his job.

"Both sides says that the science reports what they say. In a lot of ways, it has become a religious debate with both sides being closed off to evidence," he said.

Boulder County owns farmland because of its aggressive work to combat urban sprawl. Since the 1970s, it's bought around 100,000 acres of rural land. The county then leases some of that land back to farmers. Nine farmers grow about 1,000 acres of GMO corn and sugar beets.

That arrangement has given a sharp point to a GMO debate that's often wide and ideological. Still, Runyon says his interviews often become philosophical discussions about the role GMOs play (or shouldn't play) in the agricultural economy.

"You have to take each variety of crop on its merits and not group everything under this broad GMO umbrella," he said. "If you do that, you might miss a new plant variety that might have some really big benefits."