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Food Democracy and the Fight to Label GMOs

An Interview with Arty Mangan, Director of Bioneers Restorative Food Systems Program

Food Democracy and the Fight to Label GMOs kitchen.nutiva.com

Photo Credit: Republic of Light

As conscious consumers and people who care about our health, we want to know what goes into the food we eat. Over the last few decades we’ve seen enormous strides in the organic and local food movements and a resurgence of farmer’s markets, urban gardening and youth activism for food justice. However, one area where Americans have fallen behind is in the regulation and labeling of GMO ingredients in our food.

According the Non-GMO Project, food products that are currently at a high risk for being genetically modified include:

  • Alfalfa
  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Cotton
  • Papaya
  • Soy
  • Sugar Beets
  • Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash

So many foods on that list are common to our everyday diets and yet we don’t have a clear picture of what we’re eating. Why aren’t GMO foods being labeled in stores and on packaging? I asked Arty Mangan, Director of Bioneers Restorative Food Systems, to share his insights about the current state of GMO labeling and what we can do to help bring more transparency to our food system.

Q: How does the United States compare to other nations when it comes to GMO labeling?

In at least one way, Vietnam, China and Russia are more democratic than the United States. They are among the more than 60 countries that have made labeling GMO ingredients in food the law of the land. In Europe, GMO foods are labeled and the overwhelming majority of people refuse to buy them, that’s how a free market is supposed to work. In the United States, we don’t have that freedom of choice, despite the fact that GMOs offer no benefits to consumers and have not been proven safe. 

Q: Is there science to back up the claim that GMO ingredients in food are safe?

David Suzuki, the award winning Canadian geneticist and broadcaster said, “Any scientist who tells you they know that GMOs are safe and not to worry about it, is either ignorant of the history of science or is deliberately lying. Nobody knows what the long-term effect will be.”

Q: What do you think is the primary reason we’re not currently labeling GMOs in the United States? 

The unfortunate reality is that money buys elections…the biotech industry and its cronies spent $45 million to convince citizens in California to vote against their own self-interest and narrowly defeat Proposition 37 Right to Know ballot initiative in 2012. For an industry that spent half a billion dollars from 1999-2009 lobbying Congress, $45 million is merely a cost of doing business.

The collateral social damage of that cost of doing business is a degraded democracy. A healthy environment for a vibrant democracy is truth and transparency. If it becomes legal to hide what’s in our food – something so elemental, so essential, and from a traditional perspective, so sacred – then what other important things could be hidden from us?

Neva Hassanein, a local food activist and environmental studies professor at the University of Montana, once told me, “The dominant food system is based on the public not knowing.”

Q:  Have there been successes in raising public awareness and getting individual companies to eliminate GMOs from their products? 

I recently spoke with Nutiva founder John Roulac about strategies, challenges and successes in getting companies like General Mills to eliminate GMOs from Cheerios. You can watch the full webinar below:

New Strategies for Battling GMOs with John Roulac – February 26, 2015 from Bioneers on Vimeo.

Q: What GMO-related bills should concerned citizens be aware of right now?

The Biotech industry’s current strategy is to put a stop to all the pesky noise about the people’s right to know what’s in their food. HR Bill 1599, which is cynically titled the Safe and Accurate Labeling Act; has been dubbed by food activists as the Dark Act – Denying Americans The Right to Know. The Dark Act, which was passed in the House of Representatives, will do the following:

  • Forbid states from labeling GMO foods or enforcing existing labeling laws.
  • Prohibit state, county or city oversight of GMO crops.
  • Further weaken already feeble regulations on GMO crops. 
  • Allow GMO foods to be labeled as natural.

Food Democracy and the Fight to Label GMOs kitchen.nutiva.com John Roulac Quote

Q: Aside from voting with our food choices each day, what can an average citizen do to support the movement to label GMOs? 

The Dark Act is now in the Senate trying to get footing to come to a vote. If you believe in democracy and your right to critical information, contact your Senators and let your voice be heard to help preserve your democratic right to know.

To contact your Senator call-202-224-3121 or go to http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

Lear more about Restorative Food Systems and join the movement for people and planet at the 2015 Bioneers Conference this October 16-18, 2015 in San Rafael, California.

Get $75 off 3-day passes with code: NUTIVA75 and $50 off 1-day passes with code: NUTIVA50. Register today: conference.bioneers.org.

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