Our fearless co-founder, Gary Hirshberg, took some time from his busy schedule to sit down and update us on what he’s been up to lately in the fight for GMO labeling. Stonyfield Mairead conducted the interview.
Gary Hirshberg is eager to pass along his learnings from Stonyfield to help the next generation of entrepreneurs, but his biggest focus has always been to build a strong awareness about organic and why people should purchase organic when they can.
Mairead: You helped create and are Chairman of the Board for Just Label It, the non-profit raising awareness about GMOs and promoting a national GMO labeling law. If someone heard about Just Label It for the first time, what would you want them to walk away knowing?
Gary: You ought to be able to choose the ways that foods are produced, the kinds of choices that farmers are making the kinds of choices they aren’t hearing from consumers. Without labels, consumer’s voices are not being heard. This is simply allowing the marketplace to work. Since people are breathing drinking and eating more herbicides than ever as a result of the expansion in the use of GMOs, we think that people should be able to vote in the most effective voting booth of all: the supermarket.
M: What is your latest venture in the world of food politics?
G: Right now there’s a very dangerous bill that has been proposed by Mike Pompeo called, “the Dark Act” that denies Americans the right to know what’s in their food by prohibiting any federal or state labeling of foods made with GMOs. We (Just Label It) are hard at work trying to stop that bill from moving forward.
Another thing I’ve been fighting against is a new GMO crop that is resistant to a herbicide called 2-4D. Ninety percent of soy and corn is genetically engineered to be tolerant of herbicides, mostly to a herbicide commonly known as Round Up. Dow has brought in this new crop, that is resistant to a stronger herbicide called 2,4D. We’ve already seen how Round Up resistant GMO crops increased the use of Round Up, and I’m concerned that now we’ll see the same thing once 2,4D resistant crops are in production. This is worrisome because we know that 2,4D is one of the key components of Agent Orange, and there’s an extremely high probable correlation to lymphoma, Parkinson’s, variety of neurologic disorders caused by exposure to these chemicals.
I’m building awareness of the potential dangers of pesticides through my work with Organic Voices, and trying to create a broader understanding about the benefits of organic, which prohibits the use of these kinds of genetically engineered crops. We’ve been working with creative industries and we are going to the next phase, to help show why you really want to choose organic for your family.
M: These seem like big issues happening at a very high level. How can the average person support the GMO labeling cause?
G: Plug in and learn what’s going on in your state. For example, Vermont just passed a state GMO labeling bill and the state is now being sued by the Grocery Manufacturers Association over this new law. Colorado and Oregon will both have questions on the ballot this fall about GMO labeling. Anyone can help advance the fight in these three states – for more information check out their websites: http://www.foodfightfundvt.org/, http://www.righttoknowcolorado.org/, http://www.oregonrighttoknow.com.
Just going to Just Label It to sign the petition for federal labeling also helps. We need as many people signed on as we can get to send a message to the federal government that the time for labeling is now.
And, let your Congress member know that you don’t support the Pompeo Dark Act bill.
You mentioned labeling laws at the state and the federal level. What is the difference between state GMO labeling and national GMO labeling?
G: The bottom line is that local politics are often easier to advance than federal for all kinds of reasons. Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have already succeeded at passing state GMO labeling bills, which would require labeling for food sold within those states. I think these efforts to pass state labeling laws are important, but ultimately we need a federal law so that everyone in the US has the same access to the same information about how their food was made. I call it the biggest food fight in America. Citizens might not know much about this stuff, but they know they want the right to choose. Ninety two percent of citizens want the right to know what’s in their food. Stonyfield has been a big supporter of many state labeling campaigns, including the Vermont GMO labeling bill, and we are putting in effort to make sure it happens at all levels.
In addition to GMO labeling, what is an emerging issue in our food system?
G: There’s a big question – do we want to continue to invest in short term solutions that result in a lot of toxicity but do not create a long term answer? I really believe that future generations will ask, “What were they doing?”, and “Why were they allowing this chemical treadmill to continue when they knew about these threats?” We need to start to really address these bigger questions about the use of chemicals in our food supply.
Anything else you would like your loyal Stonyfield fans know?
G: The reality is that we vote every time we shop. The vote, these days especially, is more important than ever. We influence the companies by showing support for organic and GMO-free. The simple reality is that these companies work for us. Maybe people can’t buy everything organic and GMO-free but they should buy what they can.
This herbicide issue is the reason I stepped down from my position as CE-Yo of Stonyfield to focus my efforts on GMO labeling full time. I feel that there’s an absolute need for us to step up as a political movement. It starts with us consolidating our power. I started Stonyfield with a political agenda and to help people make a difference. It’s really crucial that we recognize our political power lies in our consumption.