Out of the Kitchen and On Capitol Hill: Chefs Speak Out for GMO Labeling

‘Having honest, clear labeling of the foods we eat is a fundamental right, one that’s worth fighting for.’

— by Deirdre Fulton, CommonDreams staff writer

More than 700 chefs and restauranteurs are calling on Congress to support legislation to mandate labeling of genetically modified foods and to oppose efforts to block state GMO labeling laws.

colicchio
Chef Tom Colicchio testifies before Congress in 2010. (Photo: House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats/flickr/cc)

Advocates from Food Policy Action, Environmental Working Group, Center for Food Safety, Just Label It, and other national groups joined high-profile chefs—including Tom Colicchio, José Andrés, Art Smith, and Sam Talbot—on Tuesday for meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and to deliver a petition in favor of a GMO-labeling bill sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon).

“As chefs, we know that choosing the right ingredients is an absolutely critical part of cooking,” reads the petition. “But when it comes to whether our ingredients contain genetically modified organisms, we’re in the dark. The simple truth is consumers have the right to know what they’re feeding their families, and as chefs we have a right to know what we’re feeding our customers.”

Further, the petition points out that while 93 percent of Americans support GMO labeling, the U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries in the world without labeling laws. GMO labeling laws have passed in Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut; an Oregon ballot measure requiring labels on all genetically modified food sold in the state will be recounted after falling just shy of the votes necessary for passage in the November election.

“As a chef and father, I want to know what I’m serving my customers and kids, and the majority of Americans want honest information about the food on their tables,” said Colicchio, the owner of Craft Restaurants, co-founder of Food Policy Action, and head judge on Top Chef, who authored the petition. “Having honest, clear labeling of the foods we eat is a fundamental right, one that’s worth fighting for.”

Culinary insiders are increasingly flexing their advocacy muscles outside the kitchen and in Washington, D.C.—a phenomenon explored at Politico last week.

“Colicchio is part of a growing army of chefs across the country looking to channel their growing celebrity to influence food and agriculture policy in Washington, from school nutrition to the farm bill to animal welfare and even fisheries management,” wrote Helena Bottemiller Evich. “Their number is legion, their ranks full of names like Rachael Ray and Mario Batali along with scores of local celebrity chefs and restaurateurs—and their increasingly organized effort backs up some of the Obama administration’s sweeping food policy agenda right as it faces down an adversarial Congress.”

“Chefs are among the most influential advocates I’ve ever lobbied with,” Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, told Politico. “They bring a business perspective to food policy that a traditional advocate might not bring and they rise above the partisan divide.”


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Second Discovery of GMO Wheat Reveals ‘Failed Policy’ That Threatens Farmers

USDA says genetically engineered wheat discovered on Montana farm

by Andrea Germanos, CommonDreams staff writer

“Coexistence between genetically engineered and non-genetically engineered crops is a failed policy that fundamentally cannot work,” stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. (Photo:  luke chan/flickr/cc)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday revealed that it was opening an investigation into the appearance of unapproved genetically engineered wheat in Montana.

It marks the second time the USDA is issuing notice of a discovery of rogue genetically engineered (or GMO) wheat. There is no commercially-approved GMO wheat.

According to a statement issued by the USDA, the discovery of the Roundup-resistant GMO wheat was made in July at Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Huntley, Montana. That location was the site of Monsanto-led GMO wheat trials, approved by the USDA, from 2000 to 2003.

The agency stated that the GMO wheat found at the Montana site is different from the rogue GMO wheat spotted in 2013 on an 80-acre Oregon farm which was not the site of trial tests. That discovery sparked international backlash, with Japan and South Korea suspending some imports of U.S. wheat and the European Union calling for more testing of U.S. wheat. It also sparked a class action lawsuit by U.S. wheat farmers against Monsanto, charging that the GMO wheat finding caused them economic damage.

In the same announcement issued Friday, the USDA states that it is ending the investigation into the Oregon GMO wheat discovery, stating that it “appears to be an isolated incident,” and that the Oregon wheat is “significantly different” from the Montana wheat.

It states that there is no evidence that there is now GMO wheat in commerce and that it is unclear how the GMO wheat ended up on the Oregon farm.

Watchdog group Center for Food Safety, however, charges that the new discovery poses a threat to farmers and should be a call to stop open-air field trials.

“Once again, USDA and the biotech industry have put farmers and the food supply at risk,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. “Coexistence between genetically engineered and non-genetically engineered crops is a failed policy that fundamentally cannot work. Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country.”

“USDA cannot keep treating these as isolated incidents; contamination is the inevitable outcome of GMO crop technology,” he added. “USDA should, at a minimum, immediately place a moratorium on open-air field testing of genetically engineered crops.”


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State-by-State Reports: The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System

— by Megan Slack, August 01, 2013

America has always been a nation of immigrants, and throughout the nation’s history, immigrants from around the globe have kept our workforce vibrant, our businesses on the cutting edge, and helped to build the greatest economic engine in the world. But our nation’s immigration system is broken and has not kept pace with changing times. Today, too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers and there are 11 million people living and working in the shadow economy. Neither is good for the U.S. economy or American  families.

Commonsense immigration reform will strengthen the U.S. economy and create jobs. Independent studies affirm that commonsense immigration reform will increase economic growth by adding more high-demand workers to the labor force, increasing capital investment and overall productivity, and leading to greater numbers of entrepreneurs starting companies in the U.S.

Economists, business leaders, and American workers agree –  and it’s why a bipartisan, diverse coalition of stakeholders have come together to urge Congress to act now to fix the broken immigration system in a way that requires responsibility from everyone —both from unauthorized workers and from those who hire them—and guarantees that everyone is playing by the same rules. The Senate recently passed a bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform bill would do just that – and it’s time for the House of Representations to join them in taking action to make sure that commonsense immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible.

In addition to giving a significant boost to our national economy, commonsense immigration reform will also generate important economic benefits in each state, from increasing workers’ wages and generating new tax revenue to strengthening the local industries that are the backbone of states’ economies. The new state by state reports below detail how just how immigration reform would strengthen the economy and create jobs all regions of our country.

We must take advantage of this historic opportunity to fix our broken immigration system in a comprehensive way. At stake is a stronger, more dynamic, and faster growing economy that will foster job creation, higher productivity and wages, and entrepreneurship.

STATE REPORTS

Alabama Alaska Arizona Arkansas
California Colorado Connecticut Delaware
Florida Georgia Hawaii  
Idaho Illinois Indiana Iowa
Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Maine
Maryland Massachusetts Michigan Minnesota
Mississippi Missouri Montana Nebraska
Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey New Mexico
New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio
Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island
South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Texas
Utah Vermont Virginia Washington
West Virginia Wisconsin Wyoming  

Reprinted from The White House Blog.  For more information:

Tell Congress: STOP Using Pesticides That Kill Our Bees!

Last month, 50,000 bumble bees died after trees in Wilsonville, Oregon were sprayed with dinotefuran, the neonicotinoid ingredient in Safari pesticide. This was the largest bee die-off ever recorded.

With bee populations declining across and around the country at alarming rates, I urge you to support the “Save America’s Pollinators Act” to restrict the use of these chemicals until we can be assured that they are safe and being used properly.

Take-Action

Why is this important?

From flowers to chocolate, berries to tequila, pollinators are integral to the planet, economy, and many aspects of our lives. In fact, the USDA estimates that about one in every three bites of food is either directly or indirectly made possible because of bee pollination. Both our environment and food supply are inextricably tied to the welfare of bees, making the decrease in bee population a cause for great alarm.

Changes in climate and ecosystems are certainly at least partly responsible for the increase in colony collapses, though man may be playing a more direct role in die-offs than that. Neonicotinoids, a particular type of pesticide, have become increasingly common in the last decade and are suspected to be contributing to the decline in bee populations around the world. The die-off of 50,000 bees in Wilsonville, Oregon – roughly 300 nests – after the application of the neonicotinoid dinotefuran was a call to action.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is investigating the die-off and is temporarily restricting the use of 18 pesticide products containing dinotefuran, and the Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing the use of these chemicals. However, that review is not scheduled to be completed for another five years. Meanwhile, Europe has already moved forward with restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids

We must act now. This week I introduced, H.R. 2692, The Save America’s Pollinators Act, with my friend Congressman John Conyers to suspend certain uses of neonicotinoids until the Environmental Protection Agency reviews these chemicals and makes a new determination about their proper application and safe use. This will increase pressure on the EPA to speed their review before another mass bee-die off can occur.

Raising the public awareness of the integral role of pollinators to the world, the precarious state of their population, and what we can do to protect them is of the utmost importance. I’ll hope you’ll join me as a citizen co-sponsor of this important legislation.

Sincerely,
Earl Blumenauer
Member of Congress

Learn more about the Save America’s Pollinators Act:

The Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013

 Congressman Earl Blumenauer • Third District of Oregon • http://www.blumenauer.house.gov

Background

Pollinators—including honeybees, bumble bees, butterflies, and other insects—play an important role in our farms, flower gardens, and food. In fact, some of the crops most important to Oregon’s agricultural economy—blueberries, raspberries, cherries, apples, vegetable seed, squash—are reliant on bees for pollination and reproduction. More than 70% of America’s food sources are pollinated by bees and the worldwide economic value of these crops is as high as $200 billion a year.

America’s bee population is struggling. During the last five years, beekeepers have lost more than 30% of their hives annually. While many factors are believed to contribute to this die-off, significant evidence links the use of a certain class of nicotine-derived pesticides, neonicotinoids, with bee die-offs. In 2013, the European Union significantly limited the use of neonicotinoids, citing concern about their impact on honeybee populations. That ban took effect April 29th and is valid for two years.

EPA Review Process

In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated a new process to reevaluate pesticides on a regular cycle. Each licensed pesticide is reviewed every fifteen years to confirm that it is being used safely and that its impacts on human health and the environment are properly assessed. Most neonicotinoids are scheduled to be reviewed in 2018.

Legislation

The Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013 directs the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend use of the most bee-toxic neonicotinoids for use in seed treatment, soil application, or foliar treatment on bee attractive plants within 180 days, and to review these neonicotinoids and make a new determination about their proper application and safe use. EPA is required to take all peer reviewed data into account when reviewing the use of these neonicotinoids, and to specifically account for any potential impact on the health and viability of pollinator populations.

Given the recent bee die-offs in Hillsboro, Oregon and Wilsonville, Oregon and disturbing preliminary research on the impact of these pesticides, it is clear that they must be evaluated to ensure that their use does not pose an immediate threat to bee populations and the long-term viability of our farms. Until those determinations are made, we cannot risk the potential of putting our farms, food, and families in danger.

The Save America’s Pollinators Act also instructs the Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, to issue a report on the native bee populations in the United States, any decline in the population levels, and any potential causes of such decline.


Supported by: Center for Food Safety, Xerces Society, NW Center for Alternatives to Pesticides

For more information on Congressman Blumenauer’s agricultural agenda, please contact Tyler Frisbee (202) 225-4811 or Hillary Barbour (503)231-2300 or visit him on the web at http://www.blumenauer.house.gov.