About a month ago, I was asked if I would represent Colorado’s Right to Know campaign to label genetically engineered foods in a televised debate against the opposition.
I wanted to say no. This work pulls me out of my comfort zone, I do things I am afraid to do. I have never done a televised debate, despite being invited to debate Monsanto a few years ago at a conference in Chicago.
When I agreed to that one, I packed the kids’ lunches at 4am that morning to catch a flight to Chicago. When I got to the conference, the organizer informed me that Monsanto would not be coming. “You have a room full of commodity farmers who grow Monsanto’s crops and an hour and a half to fill,” I was told.
I took a breath and walked into the room, “Welcome to the Lion’s Den” one of the farmers said, and so that hour and half began (the story is told here).
The second time I was asked to debate the opposition was when my friend, Bettina Siegel, launched her petition to get “pink slime” out of our hamburger meat. I was contacted by CNBC to debate the National Cattleman’s Association. I wanted to say no, I had worked straight through spring break, and we were spending the last few days with my parents in Houston. CNBC pressed, others, too, so I borrowed a jacket from my mom and went to the studio. Ten minutes before we were supposed to go live, the producer called, apologizing, saying that the other side wouldn’t appear.
The most recent invitation came this summer, when I was asked if I would debate the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) on labeling genetically engineered foods. I said yes, committed to the date, only to learn a few days before the actual event that the GMA would not come.
I was not surprised. Disappointed? Yes. There are people inside of companies inside of the GMA who truly want to do the right thing. These conversations are critical. Not showing up is no longer in the best interest of their members.
So when I was asked to represent the pro-labeling campaign in Colorado on a televised debate, I wanted to say no, knowing they’d pull another fast one, but I couldn’t. This work pulls me out of my comfort zone, I do things I am afraid to do. Love is more powerful than fear, so I said yes.
I am not paid by the campaign to do this. I do the work as a mother of four. I volunteer my time for organizations working on this issue at the state level, the national level and the global level. It is my life’s work.
I was to debate Don Shawcroft, the head of the Colorado Farm Bureau and a Colorado rancher. He would represent the anti-labeling side.
I am named after a farmer. She is my godmother. She lost her husband when she was in her 40s, then turned around and battled cancer in one of her children and then breast cancer herself. I don’t care what side of the food aisle you are on. Farmers have fed our country since its inception. Colorado farmers have fed our state for generations. You honor that. I was looking forward to the dialogue.
Our debate was scheduled for Wednesday, September 24 in Colorado. A Colorado mom debating a Colorado farmer on a Colorado state initiative.
It didn’t happen.
When the opposition learned that I would be representing the campaign, they put the farmer in the corner and flew in an industry spokesperson name Dana Bieber from Seattle.
Nobody puts farmers in the corner. I don’t care what side of the food aisle you are on. We wouldn’t be here without them. It was a bad decision.
Ms. Bieber is a pro. It was obvious. The work that she did as the Campaign Communications Director in Seattle last year and the work that she is now doing as the spokesperson for the anti-labeling campaign in Oregon is that of a professional. She disclosed who was funding her work in Washington state on a call made to thousands of voters: “Monsanto Company, DuPont Pioneer, Dow Agrosciences, LLC and Bayer Crop Science” and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.” You can listen here….
Here in Colorado, the anti-labeling opposition has been funded, so far, by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, Pepsi, Smuckers. A slightly different list, disclosed by campaign finance reports.
Colorado state law requires that only one issue is addressed per amendment title which means not everything for human consumption can be written into this bill.
A spokesperson from another state who does not vote here may not know that.
Is that perfect? No. The state law would have to be changed.
It is a reasonable starting point. Just as 35 bills around the country in 20 states are reasonable starting points. In the absence of any meaningful legislation coming out of D.C., states around the country are taking this initiative into their own hands. It’s how democracy works.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen this.
A great example of states taking the initiative on legislation is the fact that states are largely responsible for seat belt legislation. The first seat belt law was introduced in New York in 1984. States around the country followed. We still don’t have a mandatory, national seat belt law. It’s regulated at the state level.
What these state labeling initiatives are doing is putting pressure on food manufactures to join the 21st century and 64 countries around the world and label genetically engineered ingredients in their products. American food companies provide this information to families in other countries but hide it from families here.
The fastest answer would be through the marketplace, and the agitation at the state level is creating activation in the food industry.
We could be waiting years for mandatory national labeling. Consumers know that. Nobody is holding his or her breath on much of anything out of D.C.
We label if our milk is pasteurized and if orange juice comes from concentrate. We label allergen content, fat, protein and sugar content. American companies label genetically engineered content in the foods that they sell overseas, so that families can make an informed choice about the fact that corn now found in our food supply is regulated by the EPA as a pesticide (EPA source).
But for a spokesperson to claim to Colorado voters, “Let them eat chemicals!” before jumping on a flight back home? I appreciate the spokesperson actually flying in and the person who approved, funded and accommodated the last minute request, but they can pack that up and take it home with them. It’s backward looking policy that would not only set Colorado back 20 years but also our country.
U.S. trading partners label genetically engineered ingredients. The cost to our farmers and to our global trade is too great to continue to pretend that 20 year old policy is in the best interest of farmers, families and food companies.
Anti-labeling policy is only in the best interest of the chemical companies who would have to be accountable to their products if they were labeled, and industry-funded spokesmen defending them.
Labeling genetically engineered ingredients has not caused economic ruin in other countries, nor for our own U.S. food companies labeling these ingredients overseas. It has not driven up food prices, nor caused economic collapse for farmers. It has simply given citizens the ability to make an informed choice about what they are feeding their families.
It is not only insulting for American food companies to label genetically engineered ingredients (now regulated as pesticides by the EPA) on their products in other countries for families overseas, while hiding that information from American families, it is a violation of a fundamental human right.
“Let them eat pesticides…..?”
Not on our watch.
Patriotism begins with the plate. It is time for American food companies to label these ingredients here.