America’s Non-GMO Uprising
From coast to coast concerned citizens are organizing to demand the right to know and for non-GMO foods.
Pamm Larry clearly remembers when she got the idea to launch an initiative to get genetically engineered foods labeled in California. “One day in January 2011, I had an epiphany. It hit me that it was my job to put a labeling law on the ballot,” she said.
The farmer and grandmother from Chico, California then got into her car and drove around the state to organize support even though she had no money.
She was also terrified. But she said: “I cared enough about the issue that I overcame fear.”
She was driven by her fear and opposition to GMOs. “I was appalled that our seed supply was being taken over.”
Larry—whose title is “initial instigator” of Proposition 37—was soon joined by thousands who put the measure on the ballot in California. And though it was narrowly defeated last fall, Prop 37 has inspired thousands of Americans nationwide to demand the right to know whether the foods they eat are genetically engineered.
40 GMO-Free/Right to Know Groups
Groups like Larry’s LabelGMOs.org are sprouting nationwide. There are an estimated 40 GMO-free groups in the US. There is GMO-Free Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Idaho, Washington state and DC, Ohio, Mississippi, and Oregon to name a few. There is Vermont Right to Know, Label It Hawaii, Massachusetts Right to Know, Right to Know GMO Maine, and No GMO 4 Michigan. There are county- and city-based groups like GMO-Free Josephine County (Oregon), GMO-Free Phoenix, and GMO-Free Seattle. There is a national group, GMO-Free USA.
GMO-Free Pennsylvania organizer Zofia Hausman became involved in the GMO fight after seeing the documentary film Food Inc., which focused on the problems of the industrial food system including GMOs. “Seeing the injustice of how the whole system is set up made me want to do something in raising awareness about our food supply,” Hausman says.
A filmmaker, Hausman has been working on a film about GMOs called The Agtivists, but her work with GMO-Free Pennsylvania has put the film project on hold.
GMO-Free Pennsylvania has some 500 members and has been growing rapidly since they launched a campaign to support legislation to label GMOs that was introduced into the state legislature in March.
“People are really energized by it and really want to get behind the fight for our right to know what’s in our food,” she says.
One of most remarkable things about the GMO-free groups is that up until about a year ago none of them existed. They all started to emerge around the same time as Prop 37, according to Tara Cook-Littman, organizer of GMO-Free Connecticut. “We all had an awakening around the same time,” she says.
“Ignite our flame higher”
A few years ago Cook-Littman, who is an attorney, would never have imagined getting involved in the GMO fight. “I was a very unlikely candidate and never got involved in politics.”
Now she says it is the right thing to do. “The universe plopped me here and everything fell into place.”
Cook-Littman has been working to educate fellow citizens in Connecticut about GMOs for several years. Last year she joined with other non-GMO supporters to launch GMO-Free Connecticut and rally support for a GMO labeling bill introduced in the state’s legislature.
Since then the group has grown. “Last year there were two of us traveling around the state holding GMO educational events, and now there are 30,” Cook-Littman says.
GMO labeling bills have moved further through Connecticut’s legislature than last year, passing out of two committees.
Regardless of whether the bills pass or not, Cook-Littman says “We will keep going and ignite our flame higher.”
Like Tara Cook-Littman, Kiki Corbin had no experience in politics when she got involved with Label GMO Nevada. She says she got involved at the request of Pamm Larry “without any thought as to what it would entail.”
As a naturopathic doctor, Corbin says she has seen negative impacts on her patients from eating GMOs and recommends a non-GMO diet. “Many would get well just by switching to non-GMO food.”
Like Pamm Larry, Corbin is a concerned grandmother. “I want (my grandchildren) to be able to have normal, healthy lives. It is a big motivation for what I am doing,” she says.
Many of the GMO-free groups have joined together to create the Coalition of States for GMO Labeling to share information and support each other’s efforts. Organizers from 37 states participate in the coalition’s activities, which include regular conference calls with updates on the progress of state labeling efforts.
“The coalition will not rest until every person in this country can make decisions for themselves as to whether they want to consume GMOs or not,” Cook-Littman says.
Ed Stockman sees GMO risks from an organic farmer’s perspective. “After reading industry generated hype and much of the industry funded research about GMO crops, I began to understand the threats posed by this technology to our health, the health of our livestock, agriculture, and the environment,” says Stockman, who grows berries in …, Massachusetts.
Stockman joined with fellow non-GMO supporter, Martin Dagoberto, to establish Massachusetts Right to Know GMOs. The two are educating people about GMO risks, building a network of partner organizations, and working with legislators to advance GMO labeling bills in the state.
When she first heard about the risks of GMOs nine years ago, GMO-Free Mississippi organizer Iris Whalen dismissed them as ravings of “hysterical hippies.”
But the more she learned about GMOs, the more concerned she became. “As a mother I felt that I had to do what I could to protect my children. I cannot think of any topic that has greater implications,” she says.
Whalen has been spreading information about GMOs for the past five years and recently she teamed up with GMO-Free Mississippi founder Donna Osborn, and the two are now organizing educational events around the state.
“We feel that in Mississippi, the first thing we have to do is educate the public,” she says.
Whalen believes the tide has turned in the GMO fight. “It’s wonderful to see. I have felt as if I was just banging my head against a wall until now.”
Ken is editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.