GMO Free NY Mascot Bucky TomatoActivist Stacie Orell doesn't want Americans to be dining in the dark anymore when it comes to GMOs (genetically modified organisms). She just finished her Masters in Environmental Conservation at NYU and is a co-founder and campaign director for GMO Free NY. The grassroots group is pushing the New York State Assembly and New York State Senate to pass legislation stipulating that GMO food offered for retail sale in the state must be labeled as such. The vote has to happen on or before June 20th when the current session ends.
How is it looking right now?
The Assembly bill has 42 members in favor right now out of 150. It's currently in committee and we just learned a few minutes ago that it will be considered on Monday by the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection. If they approve it then it will go to another committee and then to the floor for a vote before the whole assembly.
I see your official mascot is a labradoodle named Bucky Tomato.
He's my dog. I just wanted to inject a little humor into an otherwise serious conversation. He's photogenic so I decided to make use of him.
Does he eat any GMO dog food?
I don't really know since it's not labeled but I don't feed him anything with corn or soy products or any other GMO culprits.
Since the GMO labeling ballot failed to pass in California last year, what makes you think labeling has a chance in New York?
I think there's a lot of momentum right now nationwide in response to the failure in California. We've seen a lot of activity in Connecticut, Maine and Vermont. Washington State has its own ballot initiative coming up in November. A GMO labeling bill has been introduced in every session of the New York State Assembly since 2001 and this is the first time it's been in committee. Before it always died a quiet death. Our bill has great support now because of the increasing awareness and outrage about how we're not allowed to know what's in our food.
Why do you think labeling is important?
Due to lax regulation on the part of the FDA and undue corporate influence from the biotech industry, we've been eating GMOs without our knowledge since 1996. That's when they became part of our food supply. I don't want to be an unwitting guinea pig for the biotech industry. Everyone has a right to know what's in their food so I'm advocating for a label. Once we realized the FDA wasn't stepping up to the plate, we saw it was time for the states and other advocates to do something.
Do you think it made a difference when Whole Foods recently announced they were going to require GMO foods sold in their stores to be labeled?
I think a lot of people assumed Whole Foods wasn't carrying products with GMOs so it's increased public awareness. It's great they made this announcement but it doesn't go into effect until 2018 and I hope we'll have a federal law in place before that.
With the Monsanto Protection Act, Congress seems to have completely sold out to Monsanto lobbyists.
It seems that way if you look at the vote number. Our own Senator Gillibrand voted against the amendment that would have repealed the Monsanto Protection Act. A lot of us aren't very happy with her right now. Seventy-one senators voted against repealing it. Senator Schumer voted in favor.
There's a fear that GMO foods could give rise to superweeds and superbugs.
There are environmental concerns. The bulk of these products have been developed by Monsanto as a means to sell their pesticides. The reality is that the weeds have evolved into superweeds and farmers have to use more Roundup and more toxic pesticides to control them. They leech into the water and we are now eating the toxins. The question is: Is it harmful or not? I don't know. Therefore, I want to be able to choose so I can avoid it.
I read that over 60 countries have enacted laws banning or mandating labeling of GMOs. The EU has been labeling GMOs since 1998. Why are we so far behind?
Because of money. My personal opinion is that our government is in bed, in certain regards, with biotech industries. We are the home of Monsanto and Dupont and there's big business in growing GMO crops. It's patented so farmers have to pay for it. All the chickens and pigs and cows are eating GMO animal feed. Historically, the U.S. is more reactionary, recalling products when there's harm done. Europe is more precautionary.
What can people do?
Go to our Facebook page where we have daily action alerts. Yesterday was Take-Your-Petition-to-Work Day. We're having a benefit on Monday where people can learn more, plus win raffle prizes and get amazing drink discounts. We're doing this on a volunteer basis out of our own pockets. We are going to Albany in a week and a half to lobby state senators.
Is Bucky Tomato making the trip?
He doesn't like long drives. He gives support in spirit.
For more info about labeling GMOs and legislation in New York, go HERE.
More information about the benefit for GMO Free NY on Monday, June 3rd, go HERE.